Deciding you are ready to report fraud is an important step. But what if that step comes too late? Understanding the Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations can help you make that very important choice in a timely manner.
Does the False Claims Act Include a Statute of Limitations?
The False Claims Act does have a Statute of Limitations. It states that a claim must come before the court within six years of any offense. It also says you must come forward within three years of finding out about the information. A statute of limitations is in place for most laws; so, this is not rare.
However, like many other laws, the Statute of Limitations in the False Claims Act does have an exception. While the law states a claim limit of within six years, it also states a person must report the fraud within three years of finding out about the information. These three years can extend the time of liability for the defendant.
For instance, if the fraud report comes to light five years after the violation occurs, the government still has the three years after reporting to consider when investigating.
The False Claims Act exists thanks to questionable behavior during the American Civil War. In 1863 the government made it law that you were not allowed to sell horses that were unfit to work. The Act also said you were not authorized to sell guns or ammunition that did not function or were faulty. In addition, the Act covered other much-needed government supplies.
The False Claims Act has changed over the years as society has developed. The law now includes contractors who claim payment for hours they haven’t worked. It also involves fraud against Medicare and Medicaid. Whistleblower Protection is part of the False Claims Act.
What Does the Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations Mean for You?
In a nutshell, you have six years. But, as with most laws, there are exceptions. Here are some examples.
Let’s say you are working as a laborer in a government building. Your employer tells you to use half the amount of screws you would usually use to build this building. You know this is a safety issue. You also know your employer is claiming you are using the full amount of screws. The employer’s lie is an offense under the False Claims Act and falls under the Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations.
But because your boss told you to do this, you worry you will lose your job, so you don’t say anything. After a couple of years, you have moved on to another job with a different building firm. The safety of people using that first building is still a worry, and you wonder if it will collapse. But remember, you can still report the offense for up to six years; your former employer can still face prosecution.
What Should You Do If the Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations Expires?
In some cases, employers are at risk even if the six year limit has expired. Using the above example, let’s assume you report the offense to a government agency after five years. That agency now has three years to sue your former employer. This extension falls under another False Claims Act Statute of Limitations provision. It states that “under no circumstances can someone be sued after ten years of an alleged offense.” Because of these time limits, it is important to report crimes right away.
Why Is It Important to Be Aware of the Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations?
False Claims Act crimes often involve safety. People can get injured, lose money, or lose their quality of life when contractors don’t perform their jobs as they should. But sometimes offenses are not uncovered until some time has passed. The public safety issue is still there, but the problem may not present immediately. This reality is why the government allows a complaint after a few years.
At the other end of the scale, there has to be a limit on how much time has passed. In the example of the screws, 20 years may pass, and the building doesn’t fall. The longer the amount of time that has passed, the harder it is to claim an offense has occurred. Memories fade over the years, and you may not remember an event as well as you once did. Or perhaps the building has undergone reinforcements in the last 20 years. All these possibilities make it impractical for the government to pursue a case after a period of several decades.
If you know of an offense against the False Claims Act, it is important to remember the Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations. As the public’s safety is often at risk, you should report any offense as soon as you become aware of it. Contact the skilled Federal False Claims Act Statute of Limitations Attorneys at Bothwell Law Group by calling 770.643.1606 today.