Appeals Court Denies Life Insurance Claim After Florida Climber Died on a Mountain in Pakistan

pastore peak pakistan
the Abruzzi ridge of K2. Masherbrum (on the right), Biarchedi (center) and Ghandogoro Ri (center left) against the skyline – these mountains lay south of the Baltoro glacier. Marble Peak is on the far left (the dark rocky walls). The shadows of the three Broad Peak summits (main, central, north – from left to right) are cast on Godwin-Austen glacier and on the slopes of Pastore Peak respectively

A federal appeals court Tuesday rejected a ruling in a South Florida case that would have led to sons of a man who died while mountain climbing in a remote area of Pakistan receiving a $500,000 life-insurance payment.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co., which denied the claim because the cause of death of Alexander Goldfarb-Rumyantzev was unknown.

The case involved an “accidental death and dismemberment” policy, which would lead to a payment if the death was caused “solely by an accident,” according to the ruling. Goldfarb-Rumyantzev, who is referred to throughout the ruling as Dr. Goldfarb, died in 2021 while attempting to summit Pastore Peak in Pakistan.

His body was never recovered, but the governments of Pakistan and the United States issued presumptive death certificates, and a Massachusetts probate court declared him dead. The man’s sons, Levi and Benjamin Goldfarb, filed the lawsuit after the insurance company denied the claim, and U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno in January 2023 ruled in their favor. But the appeals court reversed the decision.

It pointed to issues such as Dr. Goldfarb, who was a 57-year-old senior medical director at Inozyme Pharma, Inc., trying to summit the mountain after his climbing partner, Zoltan Szlanko, warned against it because of dangerous conditions. The appeals court said it considered whether the insurer had “reasonable grounds” to deny the claim, a finding that would mean the denial was not arbitrary or capricious.

“Indeed, the Goldfarbs’ best guess as to cause of death — that he fell off Pastore Peak, perishing immediately or soon after the fall due to a lack of supplies and hostile weather conditions — was well within the scope of risk contemplated by Szlanko’s warnings,” said the 25-page ruling, written by Judge Jill Pryor and joined by Chief Judge William Pryor and Judge Stanley Marcus.

“It was, therefore, not arbitrary and capricious for the insurer to conclude that a reasonable mountain climber in similar circumstances would foresee this outcome as ‘highly likely to occur.’ Even if such a fall occurred, Reliance Standard still had reasonable grounds for deciding that Dr. Goldfarb’s death was not an accident.”

–News Service of Florida

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