Keith L. Kessler
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened… Helen Keller
Over the past 30 years, Mr. Kessler is nationally recognized for his record breaking multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. He has represented brain and spinal cord injury survivors, as well as the families of victims of wrongful death. Much of Mr. Kessler’s practice focuses on roadway design, bicycle accident, product liability, and airplane/helicopter crash cases. Most recently, he was named Best Lawyers’ Lawyer of the Year – Personal Injury Litigation. He was also just named among the Top 100 Attorneys in Washington by Seattle Met magazine.
Keith’s consistent success is due largely to his skill at presenting a strong case for his plaintiff clients, supported by a network of solid experts that includes treating physicians, forensic experts, neuropsychologists, vocational rehabilitation professionals and life care planners. Several of Keith’s brain injury cases have resulted in awards of as much as $8 million to the plaintiffs. In 2010, his work in representing injured bicyclist, Mickey Gendler, against WSDOT garnered much attention within the Northwest and beyond.
Passionate about bicycle accident cases, Keith initiated the national AAJ Bike Litigation Group. He is invited all over the country and the Pacific Northwest to speak about bicycle cases: Read a recent seminar paper that Keith presented.
Keith’s sensitivity toward his clients also comes through in his many cases involving spinal cord injuries and amputation injuries. These become significant decisions because of the huge emotional component and the high level of lifetime care needed.
His cases take him to the air and to the road. Clients seek Mr. Kessler for his national reputation and extensive experience with both aircraft crashes and highway design cases. His aircraft cases have ranged from an airline crash in Amsterdam to a helicopter crash in the Olympic Mountains. One highway design case stands as the largest verdict ever in Thurston County and is among the top five biggest wrongful death verdicts in Washington state history.
Mr. Kessler is a Fellow with the American College of Trial Lawyers, having been selected from among the top 1% of trial attorneys in the United States and Canada. He has served as President of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, President of the invitation-only Damage Attorneys Round Table, and President of the American Board of Trial Advocates, Washington Chapter.
Keith was honored as “Trial Lawyer of the Year” by the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association in 1994, and as “Outstanding Plaintiff Trial Lawyer” by the Washington Defense Trial Lawyers in 2002. He has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America since 1995.
He was appointed by the Washington State Supreme Court to the Washington Pattern Jury Instructions Committee (2000 to present).
Some of Keith’s More Significant Cases
- Greene v. Pierce County (1994) $5,466,878.23 verdict for highway design case for failure to have a stop sign at a railroad crossing. Plaintiff suffered a traumatic brain injury and was blinded in the crash. Second largest personal injury jury verdict in the history of the County at the time…
Forestier v. City of Vancouver (November 2006) $6,050,000 settlement for a French foreign exchange student who was a pedestrian hit by a vehicle while crossing Fort Vancouver Way on her way to school. The City failed to provide proper lighting for the crossing….
Gendler v. State of Washington (August 2010) $8,000,000 settlement for a defective bridge where a gap in the bridge deck was too wide, allowing a bicycle tire to wedge in the gap, throwing the rider to the ground and paralyzing him.
Lan Remme v. City of Seattle and State of Washington (December 2013) Lan Remme was a fit cyclist. But he is now an incomplete quadriplegic after sustaining injuries on the Montlake Bridge. The City of Seattle and State of Washington paid a $4 million settlement. After years of work and dedication, SKW’s team of bicycle accident attorneys secured a significant settlement…
Norris v. State (1987) A motorcyclist, whose motorcycle had struck the end of an unmarked curb immediately adjacent to a freeway on-ramp, brought a lawsuit against the State claiming negligent design and maintenance of the on-ramp. A jury found in favor of the plaintiff. The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s refusal…
McCluskey v. Handorff-Sherrman (1994) The widow of a driver killed in a two-automobile collision brought survival and wrongful death actions against the State and the driver of the other automobile. A jury found in favor of the plaintiff, and the State appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court held…
- University of Washington, J.D., 1972
- University of Washington, B.A., Philosophy, 1969
- Keith is currently a Trustee at the Evergreen State College
Outside the Office
Keith tries to include time for soaking up new cities on business trips. Among his favorite places are the Italian cities of Venice and Amalfi. In the little free time he has, Keith is a fan of Formula One racing and enjoys playing the piano.
Awards & Achievements
- Seattle Area Best Lawyers’ Personal Injury Litigator (2011)
- Trial Lawyer of the Year, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association (1994)
- Outstanding Plaintiff Trial Lawyer, Washington Defense Trial Lawyers (2002)
- Awarded Fellowship in the American College of Trial Lawyers (Top 1% of Trial Attorneys in the United States) (2004)
- Elected to Membership in the American Board of Trial Advocates (President of Washington Chapter – 1997)
- Elected to Membership in the Damages Attorneys Round Table (President – 2002)
- Peer-selected for The Best Lawyers in America (1995-present)
- Appointed by the Washington State Supreme Court to the Washington Pattern Jury Instructions Committee (2000 to present)
- Appointed by the Governor of State of Washington the to the Board of Trustees of The Evergreen State College (2008 to present)
- Rated AV (highest available rating) by Martindale-Hubbell
- Rated 10.0 (highest available rating) on AVVO
- American Association for Justice
- American Board of Trial Advocates
- American College of Trial Lawyers
- Damage Attorneys Round Table
- Trial Lawyers for Public Justice
- Washington State Bar Association
- Washington State Trial Lawyers Association (past President)
- Lawyers-Pilots Bar Association
- Bicycle Litigation Strategy – Roadway Safety Cases (2014), (Keith’s presentation to various Bicycle Litigation groups)
- Washington Motor Vehicle Accident Litigation Deskbook, © WSBA 2009, chapter author, “Post-Trial Motions”
- “Open Government: Sure, we’ll give you public records – only of you agree in writing that you’ll never use them against us.”, TRIAL NEWS (Volume 43, Number 8, April 2008) (Keith provides insights from the Gendler case).
- “Median Barriers: Earth Berms and Cable Rails – Cheap; Lives Lost – Priceless”, TRIAL NEWS (Volume 43, Number 1, September 2007)
- “Pothole, Ruts and Deteriorated Pavement”, TRIAL NEWS (Vol. 41 Number 11, July/August 2006)
- “Picture-perfect Settlement Videos”, TRIAL – (Association of Trial Lawyers of America — April 2006)
- “Anti-icers: Is It Time for Courts to Recognize Municipalities’ Use of Anti-icers for Roadway Ice Control?”, BAR NEWS (Washington State Bar Association – February 2005)
- “Government Secrecy – From ‘Homeland Security’ to Simple Raw Data About Car Accidents”, TRIAL NEWS (May 2003) (reprinted inAutomobile Accidents, Highway and Premises Liability Section, Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Volume 9, Number 3, Summer 2003)
- “CR 35 Does Not Authorize Testing by Defense Vocational Counselors” (October 2002) co-author: Ray W. Kahler
- “Helicopter Pilot Error: Fundamental Fatal Mistake (April 2002)
- Washington Motor Vehicle Accident Deskbook , © WSBA 2001, chapter author, ” Highway Design, Abutting Landowners and Public Utilities”
- Chapter Author, AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT LITIGATION DESKBOOK (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — 2000)
- “Roadway Edge Drop-Off Causes Deaths” (February 2000)
- Editor, TRIAL EVIDENCE (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — 1996)
- “County’s Failure to Install $75 Stop Sign at Railroad Crossing Results in Huge Verdict” (May 1994)
- “Employer’s UIM policy: On-Duty Motorcyclist” (January 1991) co-author: Jeffrey J. Donchez
- Chapter Author, AUTOMOBILE LITIGATION DESKBOOK (Washington State Bar Association — 1990)
- “Fraternity Cliff-Diving Rush Event Has Tragic Ending” (December 1990) co-author: Paul L. Stritmatter
- “Failure to Mitigate Damages as a Component of Contributory Fault” (DART Convention, Los Cabos – April 2009)
- Speaker, Cutting Edge of Tort Law — “Accessing Public Records to Hold Government Accountable for Bad Roads” (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – October 2008)
- Chair and Speaker, Planes, Trains & Automobiles – “Beyond the Crash: The Thundering Behemoth: Locomotive v. Human” (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – September 2008)
- “Three Keys to Success in Aquatic Injury Cases: Recreational Immunity, Alcohol and Venue in Hell” (DART Convention, LaQuinta – April 2008)
- Speaker, “Beyond the Crash: Focusing on Other Responsible Tortfeasors” (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – April 2008)
- Co-Chair and Speaker, “Traumatic Brain Injuries – The Incredible Journey” (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – June 2007)
- “Fighting To Disgorge Public Records – The Determined Motion to Compel Discovery” (DART Convention, Mallorca Spain – May 2007)
- Co-Chair and Speaker, “Auto Crash Cases – Winning With Cutting Edge Technology” (Washington State Bar Seminar – August 2006)
- “The Visual Trial: PowerPoint/Video/Computer-Created Exhibits” (DART Convention, Maui, Hawaii — April 2006)
- “Accessing Government Documents – Special Issues” WSP & DOT Records (Not Above the Law; The Government as the Defendant, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – April 2006)
- “It’s Not My Fault and I Don’t Have To” — Highway Design and Maintenance (Auto Case; Just the Facts, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – March 2006)
- “Scary Machines – Scissor Lifts, Cranes, Forklifts and Riding Mowers” (Winning Your Product Liability Case, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – October 2005)
- “Advanced Settlement Presentation Techniques” (Advanced Settlement Issues Seminar, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – October 2005)
- “Interviewing Witnesses for Maximum Impact in Settlement Videos/DVDs” (Association of Trial Lawyers of America Annual Convention, Toronto – July 2005)
- Co-Chair and Speaker, “Careful Use of the Juror Questionnaire” (Dealing with Tort Reform, DART Convention — June 2005)
- “Successful Use of Experts” (Auto Cases Seminar, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — March 2005)
- Co-Chair and Speaker, “Anatomy of a Automobile Accidents – From Investigation to Courthouse Steps” (Washington State Bar Association – September 2004)
- “Bench Trial Strategies” (DART Convention, Sardinia, Italy – April 2004)
- “Setting the Stage for a Sharp Presentation” (The Power of Negotiation & Mediation, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – November 2003)
- “From Opening Statement to Jury Deliberation” – Masters in Trial Program (American Board of Trial Advocates – October 2003)
- “Leveling the Playing Field: How to Beat Basic Problems During Jury Selection” (Motions Practice Seminar, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – September 2003)
- “Ethical Considerations” (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – March 2003)
- “Government Secrecy – From ‘Homeland Security’ to Simple Raw Data About Car Accidents” (DART Convention, Costa Rica — February 2003)
- “The Nuts and Bolts of Jury Instructions” (Trial Stars, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – December 2002)
- Panel of Attorneys/Judge: “What Do Attorneys and Judges Expect from Reporters?” (Washington Court Reporters Convention, Ocean Shores, WA – October 2002)
- “Guillen/Whitmer v. Pierce County, et al.: How to Get Public Documents through Discovery” (Torts in Transition, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – September 2002)
- “Maintaining Professionalism and Advocacy in Civil Litigation” (Professionalism in Civil Litigation, Washington Defense Trial Lawyers Seminar, Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia, Canada – July 2002)
- “Personal Injury Legislation: Return to Sovereign Immunity” (DART Convention, Sedona, Arizona – March 2002)
- “Settlement Videos – The Next Generation” (The Paris Seminar, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association, Paris, France – September 2001)
- “Product Liability – Proving Causation through Scanning Electron Microscopic (SEM) Photography” (Luvera Seminar, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association Annual Convention – August 2001)
- “The Impact of Cell Phone Use on Driver Attention” (DART Convention, Maui, Hawaii — May 2001)
- “Professionalism/Creed of Professionalism” (Young Lawyers Division Mid-Year Convention, Washington State Bar Association – April 2001)
- “Demonstrative Evidence and the Introduction of Exhibits” (Automobile Accident Litigation, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association – September 2000)
- “Challenges to Plaintiff’s Vocational Expert’s Analysis: The Daubert Tentacles Continue to Extend” (DART Convention, Sicily — May 2000)
- “Effectively Presenting Brain Injury Through Demonstrative Exhibits” (Understanding Brain Injury Cases, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — May 1999)
- “Thinking Outside the Box” (Techniques of Persuasion and Other Topics) DART Convention, Corrib at Cong, County Mayo, Ireland – May 1999)
- “Use of Exhibits During Jury Selection” (Lawyers Are From Mars, Jurors Are From Venus, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — June 1998)
- “Direct Examination of Plaintiff” – Masters in Trial Program (American Board of Trial Advocates — May 1998))
- “Using the Computer for Briefs, Brochures and Exhibits” (DART Convention, Princeville, Kauai, Hawaii – April 1998)
- “Forensic Graphic Communications” (Seattle Forensic Institute of Washington — March 1998)
- Chair, “Trial Masters at Work” (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — December 1997)
- “Telling Your Story: The Goals and Strategies for Opening Statements and Closing Arguments” (How To handle and Win Your First Trials, Washington State Bar Association — January 1997)
- “Successes and Problems With Computer-Generated Animations” (DART Convention, St. Lucia — April 1997)
- “Tort Claims Against the State and Counties” (Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Convention — September 1997)
- Co-Chair, The Trial – EVIDENCE (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — November 1996)
- “Jury Selection: Embracing the Struck Jury Method” (Best of WSTLA Series: Voir Dire, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — October 1996)
- “Computer-Generated Demonstrative Trial Exhibits” (Corning’s Kernels of Wisdom, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association Annual Convention — July 1996)
- “Excluding Evidence of Employer Fault” (DART Convention, Corfu, Greece — April 1996)
- “Roadway Liability Cases” (Suing the Government, Washington State Bar Association — January 1996)
- Chair, Trial By The Masters (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — November 1995)
- “Highway Design: Duty to Maintain Safe Roads Exists Independent of Alleged Budgetary Constraints” (Tort Law Update: Unabridged and Unplugged, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — October 1995)
- “Settlement as Malpractice: Converting Tortfeasors Into ‘Empty Chair’ Entities at the Expense of the Fault-Free Plaintiff” (Hot Topics, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — May 1995)
- “Alcohol: The Drunk Driver Defendant; the Drinking Plaintiff; Dram Shop Cases; Liability of Person Supplying Alcohol to Drivers” (Auto Cases – Winning Is No Accident, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — April 1995)
- “Computer-Generated Simulations/Animations” (A Paperless Trial, Washington State Attorney General Paralegal/Investigator Seminar — December 1994)
- “Cutting Edge Courtroom Technology: Laser Discs and Computer-Generated Animation and Simulations” (DART Convention, Maui, Hawaii — February 1994)
- “Highway Design – Limited Funds for Repairs” (Luvera Seminar, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — July 1993)
- “Mediation: How to Use It Effectively” (Mediation, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — June 1993)
- “Closing Argument in the Traumatic Brain Injury Case” (Traumatic Brain Injury: Rocognizing, Documenting and Proving the Brain Injury Case, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — May 1993)
- Co-Chair and Speaker, Experts: When, Why & How? (“Dealing with High Cost and Avoiding Problems“, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — October 1992)
- “Struck Jury System Coupled with Special Written Questionnaires” (The Struck Jury System: What is it? How does it work? Where does it fit?, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — April 1992)
- Co-Chair and Speaker, WSTLA’s Best Sellers of 1991 (“Using Demonstrative Evidence“, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — December 1991)
- “Discovery Motions: Offensive and Defensive Strategies” (Effective Motions Practice: “How to Plan, Write, Argue and Win, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — November 1991)
- “Highway Design and Roadside Hazards of Cities, Counties and States” (Suing the Government, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — May 1991)
- “Use of Demonstrative Evidence to Prove Brain Injury” (All You Need to Know About Head Injury Cases, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — April 1991)
- “Determining Liability” (Accident Law, Washington State Bar Association — February 1991)
- Moderator and Speaker, “Developing Effective Demonstrative Evidence” (Computers and the Trial Lawyer, National College of Advocacy — October 1990)
- “Coordinating Expert Witnesses and Using Demonstrative Evidence” (Handling the Traumatic Brain Injury Case, Washington State Head Injury Foundation — April 1990)
- “Case Handling Strategies: Large Cases vs. Small Cases” (The Law as a Business Seminar, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — March 1990)
- “Negotiating and Settlement Techniques” (Clark County Bar Association, Vancouver, WA — January 1990)
- Co-Chair and Speaker, Best of CLE Seminar “The Role of the Attorney in Video Production and Presentation” (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — December 1989)
- Co-Chair and Speaker, Videotape/Computer Animation Seminar, “Cutting Edge of Technology” (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — January 1989)
- “Damages Potpourri: Business Torts, Consumer Protection Act, Civil Rights” (Damages and Settlements Seminar, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — April 1988)
- Co-Chair and Speaker, Business Torts Update Seminar, “Civil Rule 11: Practice and Pitfalls” (Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — May 1987)
- “Use of Professional Drawings of Accident Scene” (Luvera Seminar, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — July 1985)
- Co-Chair, Business Torts Seminar (“Cutting Edge of Business Torts“, Washington State Trial Lawyers Association — February 1985)
Some of Keith's Cases
- Moothart v. State of Washington
A Thurston County jury awarded a Vancouver man almost $3 million for multiple injuries caused by a pavement edge drop-off on a highway on-ramp.
Todd Moothart, a 50-year-old software development engineer, was on a motorcycle ride with two friends on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in September 2013. Their plan was to head east on State Route 14 to a viewpoint overlooking the Klickitat River. When Moothart and another rider got separated from the third motorcyclist by a traffic light, Moothart decided to pull off onto the shoulder of an on-ramp for SR 14 to stop and wait for the third motorcyclist to catch up. It is safer for motorcyclists to ride together as a group because they have a more visible presence on the road.
When Moothart pulled off onto the shoulder, he encountered a seven inch deep pavement edge drop-off at the fog line. A seven inch deep piece of pavement jutted out from the edge of the pavement just beyond the drop-off. When Moothart’s Harley Davidson motorcycle hit the face of the broken pavement, his front and rear wheels were severely dented, and he was launched into the air like he was on a trampoline.
Safety standards in the transportation engineering field recommend that pavement edge drop-offs be kept to a depth of no greater than two inches. The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) striping truck had came upon the pavement edge pothole and had painted the white fog stripe around it. In other words, WSDOT clearly acknowledging the hazard but did not report or repair it.
Moothart and his passenger were both ejected from the motorcycle. Moothart suffered multiple injuries, including a kidney laceration, numerous broken ribs, collapsed lungs, pulmonary contusions, a concussion, broken bones in both forearms, amputation of the top joint of his right index finger, and fractures to bones in his right pelvic ring. He was placed on a mechanical ventilator for eight days and required several surgeries.
Moothart spent 21 days in the hospital, followed by 55 days in a nursing home. He was then cared for by his mother and sister in Iowa for two months before he returned to Vancouver and resumed working part time.
The design plans for the on-ramp called for an eight foot paved shoulder on the right hand side. At the location where Moothart pulled off, there was no paved shoulder at all beyond the fog line. For unknown reasons, the State’s as-built plans for the on-ramp showed an eight foot paved shoulder, but the evidence indicated that the on-ramp never had an eight-foot paved shoulder in the area where Moothart pulled off. The on-ramp was built in the mid 90’s.
The Honorable Mary Sue Wilson granted judgment as a matter of law on the State’s negligence based on the State’s failure to provide an eight foot paved shoulder as required by the design plans. The jury also found that the State failed to maintain the on-ramp in a reasonably safe condition for ordinary travel.
Moothart has chronic pain due to myofascial injuries and nerve damage but is able to work full time. He has ongoing disabilities related to the loss of the top joint of his right index finger, myofascial damage in his forearms, and chronic pain. He no longer rides motorcycles because the crash took the enjoyment out of riding for him. He had been a motorcycle enthusiast for over 30 years.
The jury awarded $2,993,000, which included approximately $500,000 in undisputed past medical bills and wage loss. While the jury found negligence on the part of Moothart, it did not find proximate cause with regard to Moothart’s negligence.
The jurors’ post-trial message to WSDOT was that it needed to develop a clear policy for identifying, reporting and promptly repairing pavement edge drop-offs so that others will not have to suffer serious injuries the way Mr. Moothart did.
- Aurora Bridge victims vs State of WA & City of Seattle
- SKW clients sustained serious injuries as the result of a Metro bus crashing into oncoming traffic on the Aurora Bridge. A Metro bus driver was shot, and the bus traveled across the Aurora Bridge and through the railing -- plunging to the ground. We deposed SDOT employees. From those depositions, we learned that the State and City has talked about installing a barrier for many years. At that time, we reviewed plans for adding a pedestrian walkway at a level just below the bridge, enabling the City to remove the sidewalk, and move the lanes over to accommodate the median barrier.
- Norris v. State
(1987) A motorcyclist, whose motorcycle had struck the end of an unmarked curb immediately adjacent to a freeway on-ramp, brought a lawsuit against the State claiming negligent design and maintenance of the on-ramp. A jury found in favor of the plaintiff. The plaintiff appealed the trial court’s refusal to award him prejudgment interest on portions of the jury’s award that he contended were liquidated amounts. The State cross-appealed. The Court of Appeals held that: (1) motorcyclist was not entitled to liquidated damages; (2) motorcyclist’s testimony in deposition that he regularly visited and imbibed at certain taverns on Saturday nights was not admissible as evidence of habit; and (3) human factors specialist’s testimony as to freeway on-ramp design with reference to human perceptions and reaction times was admissible.
- McCluskey v. Handorff-Sherrman
(1994) The widow of a driver killed in a two-automobile collision brought survival and wrongful death actions against the State and the driver of the other automobile. A jury found in favor of the plaintiff, and the State appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court held that: (1) statute providing procedure for allocating resources to highway projects did not create duty to highway users on part of State, and (2) exclusion of evidence on State’s limitations on funding for highway projects did not warrant reversal in light of argument that situation could have been remedied with signs.
- Lee v. Willis Enterprises
- A $3,876.139 verdict for an electronics technician injured when defendant’s employee stuck a screwdriver into a variable frequency drive causing an electrical explosion. Lee suffered permanent damage to his hearing system including severe tinnitus.