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LIPA trustee wants review of how PSEG handles damage claims

A LIPA trustee is calling for a “complete review” of the PSEG Long Island process for handling customer damage claims after a Baldwin woman was forced to go to small claims court to make the utility pay for electrical damage to her home.

Trustee Jeff Greenfield on Thursday said he had requested that the board examine the process for filing claims after Marian Goldstein, 83, said she had no choice but to go to small claims court after enduring a “nasty” claim filing process at PSEG. She said the utility treated her like an “imbecile” and repeatedly denied her requests for basic information.

“It’s bad enough to have to go through the experience and then make a claim” with PSEG for damage to a home, Greenfield said, “but then to make them go to small claims court” to get relief . . . “The claims process needs a thorough review by the trustees.”

Goldstein, in a Newsday story Tuesday, said she endured a six-month process of seeking payback for more than $7,000 in damage to electric equipment and appliances in her home after what she charged was PSEG’s negligence in sending an improper voltage to homes in her neighborhood hours after an October storm had knocked out power.

A small-claims court in Nassau last week awarded Goldstein $5,000 plus interest and costs. Only an estimated 15 percent of the 2,400 customers who file claims each year are successful, Newsday has reported.

PSEG last week said it “does not agree” with the verdict, but declined to say whether it would appeal. Spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler said PSEG has a “robust claims review process and will cooperate with LIPA in any inquiry regarding that process.”

Goldstein said she’d have plenty of advice to offer trustees.

“I didn’t feel like I was a customer and they were responding to a customer,” she said. “I felt like I was something to be stepped on . . . I was to be dealt with in a negative way by PSEG so that I would go away.”

It wasn’t just PSEG’s processes that Goldstein took issue with. She filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the Long Island Power Authority, which owns the system that PSEG operates under contract, asking for the PSEG investigative report that led to the denial of her claim. LIPA’s chief executive Tom Falcone denied it on appeal as “privileged.”

Goldstein also charged that PSEG failed to tell her that she had the legal right to appeal PSEG’s rejection of her initial claim to the state Department of Public Service in Albany. LIPA’s rule book says if a customer doesn’t get satisfaction from a PSEG complaint, the utility “shall inform” customers of the DPS complaint process. Goldstein’s son, Mark, said he contacted the department and a representative advised him instead to call the local fire department.

DPS said it had no record of a complaint from the Goldsteins and it does not adjudicate monetary claims for loss of property. However, spokesman James Denn said customers who had problems with PSEG “are encouraged to contact the department to get help resolving the issue.”

Greenfield isn’t the only trustee to raise questions about the case.

“Procedurally, if we committed a mistake from a legal standpoint than obviously there’s a need for us to review and correct our process,” said LIPA trustee Matthew Cordaro, who said he had long complained about a “lack of transparency” at the utility. “There’s always been this hesitancy to reveal information.”

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