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Siltman v. Reeves

MAY 13, 1971.




APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Piatt County; the Hon. BURL A. EDIE, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied June 10, 1971.

This is an appeal from a judgment entered on a jury verdict in favor of the defendant in a cause brought by the administratrix of decedent, Henry D. Siltman, against the estate of Elizabeth Reeves, deceased. Siltman, a farm hand, working for Dennis Burns, was driving a farm tractor from one farm of his employer to another over a concrete-paved State-aid highway when the tractor was struck from the rear by the auto driven by Elizabeth Reeves. Elizabeth Reeves died subsequent to the accident from causes not connected to the accident.

The sole issue is whether it was error to admit expert-witness opinion testimony by J. Standard Baker that the taillight of the tractor operated by Siltman was not lighted at the time of the accident.

About 4:00 P.M. on the date of the occurrence, Siltman, his employer Dennis Burns, and Mrs. Burns drove from the Burns home farm to another farm south of the first, both on State-Aid Route 17. The purpose of the trip was to move a John Deere Forty-Ten tractor from the one farm to the other.

Upon arriving at the south farm, the Forty-Ten tractor would not start so that it became necessary to pull it with another tractor driven by Jim Burns, son of Dennis Burns, to start it. After starting the Forty-Ten tractor, Siltman drove it out of the driveway of the south farm onto the State highway, going in a northerly direction toward the Burns' home place.

Dennis Burns testified that after the tractor was started, before it pulled onto the highway, its four front headlights and its red taillight were lighted, and that the taillight was visible for 1500 feet.

Jim Burns testified he knew the four front headlights were lighted after the tractor was started, but that he was never thereafter behind the tractor and did not see whether the taillight was lighted.

LaVeda Rhoden, who lived in the farmhouse, testified she looked out of her kitchen window and saw the tractor being driven toward the highway. She stated that there were several lights on the rear of it including a large red flashing taillight.

After Jim Burns helped get the tractor started, he drove the other tractor behind a corncrib and spent two to three minutes cleaning its attached corn picker. He then got into a car driven by his father. They proceeded to drive onto the highway after waiting for a car and a truck to pass. The car was later determined to be the Reeves car which collided with the tractor driven by Siltman. The truck was being driven by Mrs. Burns who was returning to the home place with another hired man.

The road between the driveway at the Burns' south farm and the place of the collision is flat and level without any obstructions to view.

Mrs. Burns stated that she saw the red rear light of the tractor as it proceeded northward up the road but that she was blinded by the bright lights of the approaching cars. Both Mrs. Burns and Jim Burns said that as they proceeded north on the highway, and just prior to the accident, two vehicles passed them, going in the opposite direction. One had on its bright lights.

Approximately one-half mile north of the driveway, the Reeves car struck the tractor operated by Siltman. After the collision, the tractor was lying upside down on the right side of the road with Siltman underneath. The Reeves car was partly over the center line of the highway, ten feet south of the tractor, with the right-front half of the car damaged. The car left ten to fifteen feet of skid marks. The tractor was facing south.

A deputy sheriff, who came to the accident scene, testified that he then examined the taillight of the tractor, and that by looking at its bulb while holding his flashlight on the opposite side of the bulb he could see that the filament in the bulb was intact. He further testified that he examined the light switch of the tractor after the accident and it was in the "B" position. Previous testimony had shown that the light switch had three positions in addition to the "Off" position, and that when in position "B" four front headlights and the red taillight were lighted. The deputy sheriff examined ...

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