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‘Children orphaned by ski accident denied £5k insurance payout’

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A death certificate technicality meant the insurance money wasn't paid out  Credit: Veronica Gretch 

Has a company treated you unfairly? Our consumer champion, Katie Morley, is here to help. For how to contact her click here.  

Dear Katie,

My close friend died in a skiing accident in 2016. He was 48. He fell 500ft down an abyss and hit the rocks at the bottom.

The ski guide was prosecuted over it. The incident left his two children orphaned, as seven years previously their mother had also passed away.

My wife and I are now their legal guardians.  I am trying to settle a travel claim with my late friend’s travel insurer, Cigna Insurance Services, which is still unresolved after three years.

His cover included payment of up to £5,000 in the event of accidental death.  But because there was an investigation into the incident, many of the documents needed to process the claim took a long time to become available.

After we submitted the available documentation in March this year, Cigna said it needed a copy of his “final death certificate” to confirm the stated cause of death. 

We don’t have this as the Kent coroner has still to hold a full inquest. They are awaiting details from the French authorities that investigated the accident and prosecuted the ski guide.

A copy of the coroner’s initial death certificate has been sent to Cigna, however, which should suffice. Surely it was unreasonable for the firm to withhold payment on this technicality?

PD, KENT

Dear PD,

My heart goes out to these poor children. I was deeply saddened to hear about how cruel life had been to ones so young. On reading your letter I decided to do all I could to help them. 

In 2016 the ski accident involving their father made headlines. It was even covered by this newspaper. Your friend, a highly regarded consultant urologist, was skiing off piste with others and a guide when he fell. 

He was pronounced dead at the scene, while his family were skiing on another side of the mountain. It was an accident that should never have happened. 

I took your case to Cigna and it said this so-called “accidental death” cover required certain criteria to be met in order for payment to be made. Typically, it is able to establish the circumstances leading to a death via a coroner’s inquest, following which the corner will release the necessary information to interested parties such as insurers.

Originally it thought this would happen quickly, it said, but it later found out that this information was unlikely to be ready until mid-2020. As you say, the ski guide was prosecuted and this has complicated matters. It could mean the children having to wait more than four years before they are paid this money. 

This would clearly be an unacceptable time frame, and I’m pleased to report that following my intervention Cigna has taken the same view. It is paying £5,000 into the children’s estate, which will be kept in trust for them. 

A Cigna spokesman said: “Our thoughts are with the family following this tragedy. On learning recently that there would be no formal death certificate and that the inquest is delayed until mid-2020, we settled the claim early.”

In Cigna’s defence it said some of the length of time it had already taken to get this claim paid was down to you not contacting it until a year after your friend’s death. There were also some delays in you sending it relevant documentation, it said. 

Having spoken to you at length, this was perfectly understandable. It seems you have had your work cut out with sorting out the children’s finances. Getting their estate in order has been fiendishly complicated and you have run up against some major hurdles. Issues regarding this insurance claim are relatively minor by comparison. I have offered to help you solve these problems if the companies involved decide not to play ball.  

Despite the tragic hand these children have been dealt in life, I can see they are lucky to have you and your wife as guardians. You were chosen by their parents for a reason.  You are clearly devoted to making sure these children enter adulthood in financial security, and thanks to your love and care it sounds as if they are destined to grow into the adults their parents would have wanted them to be. For this you should be very proud.

I’m so pleased you allowed me to assist your monumental efforts in some small way.

The full Katie Morley Investigates column will appear in print every Saturday and Sunday. You can get an early taste every Friday at 1200.

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