Insurance commission complaints are subject to public disclosure beginning January 1, 2016. This will provide more transparency, and increase leverage against insurance companies that engage in unfair settlement practices.
As background, there has existed in Oregon an unfair claims settlement practices statutes. Looking at some of the key provisions that would apply in a normal “unfair settlement” situation, the law states as follows (at ORS 746.230):
“(1)No insurer or other person shall commit or perform any of the following unfair claim settlement practices:
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(f)Not attempting, in good faith, to promptly and equitably settle claims in which liability has become reasonably clear;
(g)Compelling claimants to initiate litigation to recover amounts due by offering substantially less than amounts ultimately recovered in actions brought by such claimants;
(h)Attempting to settle claims for less than the amount to which a reasonable person would believe a reasonable person was entitled after referring to written or printed advertising material accompanying or made part of an application; . . .”
The issue with this statute is that it did not provide a private right of action, meaning that it does not contain a provision authorizing an individual to sue for violation of the statute. The attorney general or the insurance commission could pursue violations, and one piece of evidence referenced in the statute is an increase in complaints filed against the insured with the insurance commission. The problem was that Oregon law provided that the commission was not to release copies of complaints, even under a FOIA request.
That is no longer the case. Beginning January 1, 2016, the commission may release copies of complaints, with the identity of the complaining party redacted, to “any requester”. I believe that this is going to cause a substantial shift in the settlement policies of some insurance companies that have been free to engage in grossly unfair settlement practices. Some of the insurers have been offering paltry settlements in Oregon for years, in order to force litigants to trial. The transparency that should result from the new law will act as a restraint on such practices, and will cause a shift in settlement practices of some of the insurance companies.
Like many other aspects of government and big business, increased transparency is a good thing. This is a positive change.