Court takes case involving mom who saw son die

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- The Michigan Supreme Court said last Thursday it will decide whether a distressed woman is entitled to insurance benefits from her car policy because she was in her vehicle when she witnessed her son's death in a motorcycle accident.

The court unanimously agreed to hear Cincinnati Insurance Co.'s appeal of a lower court ruling that found Gale Boertmann should get money for lost wages and other expenses related to nightmares, insomnia, nose bleeds and severe headaches.

Under Michigan law, her "injuries need not result from physical contact with a motor vehicle," the state appeals court said in March.

After leaving a wedding in September 2007, Boertmann was in a car behind her son, Chris, who was on a motorcycle when he was struck and killed by another vehicle.

The insurer claims Boertmann, a former Detroit police officer from Macomb County's Clinton Township, shouldn't be allowed to collect because she had no role in the crash. She has more than $30,000 in medical and counseling bills and had to give up a job as a manager of pizza restaurants, said her attorney, Drew Slager.

Slager called the decision by the Supreme Court to take the case a "bad sign."

"We still expect to prevail but the fact that they're revisiting it is an unwelcome development for us," he said. "The appeals court reached the right decision."

Cincinnati Insurance's lawyer, Robert Hurley, said the crash was a "terrible tragedy" but Boertmann still shouldn't be allowed to collect.

"You have to have an accidental bodily injury that arises out of the use of an automobile -- as an automobile. ... She would have suffered the exact same injury if she were standing on the front porch of her house" and witnessing her son's death, Hurley said.

The three-judge panel at the appeals court, he said, "doesn't appear to like insurance companies."

The Supreme Court is inviting briefs from a variety of groups interested in the case, including lawyers who sue insurers, attorneys who defend them and Michigan insurance regulators.

Published: Mon, Oct 24, 2011