The unanimous court decision that struck down an ill-conceived State Insurance Department decision this month is a victory for consumers. This ruling shouldn't be appealed.
Adding insult to injury, the Insurance Department last year tightened filing deadlines for accident reports and medical claims. The move was a sop to insurance companies trying to limit fraud, but it imposed a huge burden on all accident victims and lumped all of them in with the liars.
The year-old change in the department's "Regulation 68" was struck down by a State Supreme Court decision in June, and that ruling was upheld this month by a 5-0 Appellate Court vote. Although the unanimous vote means the state doesn't have an automatic right of appeal, it could still try to get the higher State Court of Appeals to review the case.
Forget it. This was a bad revision in the first place. It deserves to disappear.
The rationale for the revised rule, which would have cut the time for reporting accidents from 90 days to 30 days and required the submission of medical bills in 45 days instead of 180, was that extra time meant extra opportunities for mischief. Insurance companies argued that some attorneys advise clients to delay submissions, running up chiropractic and other treatment bills until the total passes the no-fault threshold and triggers a personal injury case.
That's a valid worry, but fraud is still fraud and should be targeted as such. Pursue malefactors, but don't punish everybody on the assumption that everybody's a potential liar.
There are real reasons why the revised deadlines were too short. Hospitalization is one of them. Even if the victim can meet a tighter reporting deadline, hospitals inundated with paperwork might not do as well. New York City hospitals, in fact, had testified against the revision for just that reason.
Also, many injuries -- especially soft tissue ones -- are difficult to pinpoint and may not immediately be apparent. While fraud prevention is a laudable goal, drastically tighter deadlines were not a reasonable weapon to use in this fight.
While the rules did allow deadline waivers if victims could provide "clear and reasonable justification" in writing for missing them, that's a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach that also deserves rejection.
Insurance companies estimated the rule-tightening could eliminate $100 million in fraudulent claims. If true, that's reason for concern, because fraud translates into higher insurance premiums.
But New York motorists already are engaged in the fight against fraud, paying a $1 premium surcharge to bolster a state vehicle theft and fraud prevention fund. And they have a right to expect that when valid claims are filed against them, those claims will be paid by the insurance they have purchased -- without an overly-daunting set of hurdles imposed at the behest of insurers too quick to equate every claim with a chance to cheat.