CASE LAW - Siegrist v Wiens

BC Courts Coat of ArmsThe case of Siegrist v Wiens takes place on Highway 1 near Canoe. 17 year old Kenton Wiens was driving a farm tractor pulling a hay wagon loaded with large round bales southbound. Helen Siegrist was following behind in a Nissan Sentra. When oncoming traffic cleared, Mrs. Siegrist attempted to pass Mr. Wiens.

As Mrs. Siegrist begun to pass the trailer, Mr. Wiens turned right into the driveway of Steiner Farm. The rear of the trailer swung into the northbound lane and contacted the front passenger door of the Sentra. The vehicle left the road, coming to a stop in the ditch beside the highway and catching fire. Both Mr. Wiens and other motorists were involved in rescuing Mrs. Siegrist and her husband who was a passenger in the car.

The Siegrists were taken to hospital, treated and released.

Justice Wetherill decided that Mr. Wiens was entirely responsible for the collision:

[47] I conclude that Mr. Wiens knew from his experience operating the Tractor/Hay Wagon that the rear of the Hay Wagon would swing like a pendulum around its centre wheels and swing out about twenty feet as it turned. Mr. Wiens also knew from his experience that by driving the Tractor/Hay Wagon unit along the highway, he would impede vehicles travelling at highway speed and that vehicles would pass him, as he testified he invited them to do. He would also have known or should have known that the large hay bales he was hauling obscured the Tractor’s lights and turn signals such that vehicles following the Tractor would have no indication of an impending turn.

[48] A reasonably prudent driver in Mr. Wien’s position would have known or expected vehicles following the Tractor/Hay Wagon to pass him and he had a duty to ensure that prior to turning into the Driveway, there were no vehicles behind that were attempting to pass. Knowing that the Hay Wagon would swing into the north-bound lane, it was not reasonable for him to initiate the turn when the potential for vehicles to pass was present.

[49] Mr. Wiens had the obligation to control the Hay Wagon and know where the rear of it would be at any given time. He had the onus to accommodate the risk of the plaintiff passing the Hay Wagon while it pivoted into her:

I thought that the passing driver had the duty to make the pass safely. After all, passing is optional and its perfectly legal to wait.

20 feet swing-out is very questionable, I've yet to see a vehicle/trailer like that on Canadian roads. Some Soviet (Latvian) articulated buses had a 2 meter swing (6 feet), and that was written as a large warning on their back. Nothing prudent or reasonable in expecting a driver to see where its impossible to see - the left corner of their trailer as they are making a right turn.

And how "abrupt" a tractor-trailer can really make a right turn when loaded with close to 9,000 lbs of hay?

Something is really off in this judgement.

Certainly, passing is optional - but it's a common and legal occurrence on our highways every day. Especially, in rural areas, when some agricultural vehicle is in the way.

The swing of an articulated Latvian bus is irrelevant; farm carts are often designed with almost a mid-centre axle (helps them make sharp turns to get through gates you see) so the swing can be considerable. But it's up to the driver - whether it's a 17 year old on a tractor, or anything else that needs a lot of room (like a 53' semi) to make turns, to ensure that their maneuver won't affect other road users.

...rear-ends and orange, who's at-fault?

Sure, I've looked up the "Highline 700 hay bale wagon" specs, and it does appear that there's about 17 feet of overhang from the center of the two axles to the tip of the rear end. There was a judgement where a left turning vehicle was awarded 25% fault for being t-boned by a vehicle passing on their left in the on-coming lane, because they didn't check their mirrors, and that's what I think the hay trailer driver deserves at-most.

Drivers are supposed to stay away from the rear of the next vehicle. Drivers are supposed to exercise caution when passing. The lady waited to pass and went for it at the most inopportune time when the tractor trailer combination was already preparing to turn into a driveway. I think the lady is getting the whole 100% benefit of ignorance in this judgement.

The trailer was there in-front of her, available to be seen in all its glory, and the trailer's driver could not physically see the lady.

The lady rear-ended a turning trailer and ended up 0% at-fault - is one way to look at it.

That swing didn't just happen in the blink of an eye.

the woman had to have been aware that her window of opportunity was closing, and just drove in the hole anyhow.

or Maybe she was busy getting the fire started.

[14] On-coming traffic in the south-bound lane of the Highway cleared and the plaintiff started to pass. As she did so, the Tractor made an abrupt right turn into the Driveway, causing the left rail at the rear of the Hay Wagon (“Rail”) to swing into the north-bound lane and impact the Nissan’s right-front-passenger door (“Door”), impaling the Door on the Rail and ripping the Door completely off (“Impact”).

The trailer smashed into the car, not the other way around. That simple. Obviously the tractor driver's fault.

"the left rail at the rear of the Hay Wagon" located? On its front?! The trailer was surely rear-ended. Does it matter what side of a vehicle hits another vehicle from behind for it to be a rear-ending?

And the "on-coming traffic in the south-bound lane of the Highway cleared" is directly contradicted by the witness testimony further below by Mr. Myron Crown, who states to have been in the south-bound (on-coming) lane about 200 yards away from when the accident happened. That's 182 meters, or 7.28 seconds @ stated speed of 90km/h.

A 2005 Nissan Sentra comes equipped with 1.8L 4 cylinder engine, capable of 126 hp @ 6,000 rpm. A performance version of the same car "SE-R Spec V" comes with a 174 hp engine and is capable of accelerating 0-100km/h in 7.3 seconds, 0-160km/h in 18.2 seconds. Meaning from 100km/h to 160km/h it takes just over 10 seconds.

Practically that means a really unsafe pass in the on-coming lane. Which presents a really good reason for the lady to get real close to the turning trailer and impale her Sentra on its rail from the rear.

I am very perplexed at the inversion of responsibility in this case. Typically only those drivers that are actively backing up would be held to such a high degree of duty towards those behind their vehicle. The trailer was driving forward, on a road meant for it, lawfully and fully licensed, with-out breaking any laws. The lady was passing, unsafely, and had the unobstructed view ahead, and should've used her discretion and her brake.

I read it the same way as CompetentDrivingBC, the lady was passing and the back end of the trailer swung into the left lane and contacted her vehicle when the tractor made the right turn.

No reason that she should not have passed in this circumstance as she could not know that the tractor was turning.

There is a stronger duty of care when you don't have brake lights and turn signals on the back of your farm trailer....

In reply to by DriveSmartBC

I fail to see any mention of a multi-laned road. The only lanes being talked about are south-bound and north-bound lanes. I think passing a trailer at that point, even if half of it was on the shoulder would be considered an on-coming lane pass. Otherwise why even wait for the on-coming traffic to clear?

And at para 44: "Of note, Mr. Braybrook’s evidence of the Nissan moving slightly right prior to the Impact ..." substantiates my theory that the lady backed out of the on-coming lane pass at the last moment after seeing on-coming traffic.

I agree that not having the brake lights and turn signals visible might make out the duty of care stronger, but not as strong as caution I would have expected of drivers going for a pass in an on-coming lane. It's just really strange to me to have a 100% fault allocation.

As I understood it, Justice expected the trailer to just stop there on the shoulder, wait for everyone to pass, and then turn, which is very very odd to me. Maybe the trailer driver should've instead positioned their trailer fully in the lane when making a turn and not been driving partially on the shoulder, that's where I think their fault lies in. Sort of like when big rigs take up two lanes, blocking the right lane to avoid crushing cars in the right lane when making a right turn. But a 100% fault? Too onerous.

On any two lane highway, one is the right lane and one is the left lane when you look through the windshield....

In reply to by Outrageous

And the "on-coming traffic in the south-bound lane of the Highway cleared" is directly contradicted by the witness testimony further below by Mr. Myron Crown, who states to have been in the south-bound (on-coming) lane about 200 yards away from when the accident happened.

For pity's sake, that's somebody's visual estimate of distance, and most people don't have a clue. Fact is, this collision had absolutely NOTHING to do with Mr Crown's vehicle. Fact is, that lady driving the Nissan was well familiar with highways in that area, it's where she lives. And there is zero evidence that when she attempted to pass the haywain, other vehicles were threatened. 

[38] Mr. Myron Crown, a vehicle salesman, witnessed the Accident from approximately 200 or so yards away to the North. He was the rear-seat passenger in a pick-up truck travelling in the Highway’s south-bound lane that was being test-driven by potential purchasers. He was leaning forward over the front console of the truck so that he could answer questions. He saw the Tractor/Hay Wagon travelling partly on the east shoulder of the Highway and “bouncing” as it approached in the on-coming opposite direction. It was holding up traffic behind it. The “bouncing” indicated to him that the tractor was travelling at a relatively high speed. He saw the Tractor initiate an abrupt right turn into the Driveway and the Hay Wagon’s rear end swing wide into the on-coming lane of travel (his lane). He then saw the Impact and the Nissan launch into the air, spin in the opposite direction, land near the yellow line in the middle of the highway and then go straight into the ditch. He stopped and directed traffic until emergency vehicles arrived. Other motorists extracted the Nissan’s occupants.

The driver of a commercial vehicle, or any vehicle hauling a trailer, has to be aware of their width, length, height, and where every part of their vehicle is, particularly when making turns. 

I'll give you another fact. If that tractor/trailer combo had continued straight, this crash would not have happened.

If the hay wagon was seen to be bouncing by the oncoming salesman, it could have been from rough ground, as it was stated he was half on the shoulder. I wonder if he was on the shoulder the whole time, or just before making his turn.

On the prairies, one usually took the shoulder, to encourage, and facilitate, passing. But one would never take the shoulder right before making a rh turn into a driveway. In fact, we were encouraged to just pull over and stop, once you had a car behind you. I only had a couple instances of limited vision to the rear, and that was solved with a bit of an "S" manoever.

I do agree though, it was that womans lucky day, to get 0%, or she caught the judge doing something embarassing beforehand.