By Pat Caldwell
VALE – More than 400 individual insurance claims have been filed in Malheur County in the wake of winter storms that barged over the area in January.
Kevin Jefferies of the Oregon Department of Consumer & Business Services – the agency that regulates banks, credit unions and insurance firms in the state – said so far his office received 486 insurance claims connected to the winter weather.
Of those, 286 are homeowner claims, 48 are auto claims and 126 are connected to agriculture but the total dollar losses weren’t available. The state earlier had incorrectly reported more than 700 claims for Malheur County.
Jefferies said, however, the total is probably higher.
“One insurance company under-reported significantly. That auto claim one will go up as well,” he said.
Jefferies and other representatives held meetings – one in Ontario and one in Nyssa – Tuesday to talk to area residents and answer questions or look into specific complaints.
Claims run the gamut, he said, from autos – a few hundred dollars – to big agriculture structures with a price tag of several million dollars.
Jefferies said a large number of the claims from homeowners involve water damage.
“Those ice jams (on roofs) created a lot of problems for people,” he said.
Water damaged sheet rock, wood, and plaster and compromised electrical systems, he said.
Since residents began to file claims in January Jefferies said his agency received about 14 complaints regarding insurance.
“We’ve had quite a few over the past couple of days,” he said Friday.
Jefferies said his agency reviews complaints regarding insurance two ways – a simple complaint and a confirmed complaint.
“A violation of the (state) insurance code is a confirmed complaint,” he said.
Usually the complaints, he said, revolve around minor issues.
“Most of the time it is a lack of customer service,” he said.
Yet Jefferies said his agency will review and investigate each grievance.
“We send that complaint to the insurance company and they have 21 days to respond by law,” he said.
Jefferies said the final result varies.
“Sometimes the company is clearly justified in the decision that is made. Sometimes they need to some more digging. We ask them to explain why they did what they did,” he said.
Jefferies said his agency is designed to be an advocate for consumers.
“Last year we helped 17,000 Oregonians with their insurance questions and resolved more than 3,000 complaints and recovered a little over $3 million to consumers,” he said.
Jeffries said while there have been some complaints locally, for the most part insurance companies make a concerted effort to be responsive.