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The state Insurance Department has lost a court battle that would have allowed it to dramatically reduce the amount of time policy holders have to report automobile accidents and health-care providers have to submit medical bills.

The shortened reporting periods had gone into effect February 2000 but were struck down by a state Supreme Court decision in June. A five-judge panel of the Appellate Court unanimously upheld that decision Feb. 6 and kept the rules from going back into effect anywhere in the state.

Because the decision was unanimous, the state does not have the automatic right to appeal. The state Insurance Department is reviewing the decision and has not yet decided what action it will take, a state spokeswoman said.

The Insurance Department sought to cut the time to report auto accidents from 90 days to 30 days to reduce insurance fraud. They also shortened the time to submit medical bills from 180 days to 45 days.

"Consumers do not understand and don't even know about these requirements and they could easily miss those requirements and then not have coverage they paid for," said William K. Mattar, a Williamsville attorney who focuses on automobile insurance law. "You may be in the hospital and not really understand what's going on."

The regulation was challenged by a consortium of groups representing health-care providers and lawyers, including the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, Medical Society of the State of New York, the New York Chiropractic Council, the New York Public Interest Research Group.

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