The qui tam statute of limitations creates a deadline to bring a whistleblower lawsuit.
An individual thinking about starting a whistleblower lawsuit must be aware of the qui tam statute of limitations. If the individual isn’t careful, the qui tam lawsuit they want to start could be late. Then it is then thrown out by a judge. If this happens, no qui tam reward is possible.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a deadline in which a lawsuit must begin. Almost any legal action must begin within a period of time after the underlying event occurs. In most civil lawsuits, the statute of limitations will range from one to a few years. The exact period will depend on the specific cause of action and the applicable state law. Each state has its own statute of limitations deadlines.
The purpose of the statute of limitations is to force victims to bring their lawsuit within a reasonable amount of time. Memories fade, organizations destroy documents and evidence becomes harder to find. If there is no time limit, lawsuits may begin even though almost all the evidence. This applies especially to evidence that would help the defendant, as it may no longer exist. This would be unfair to the parties involved, especially the defendant.
The statute of limitations also serves as a motivator to force potential plaintiffs, or whistleblowers, to bring their lawsuits as quickly as possible. Very few defendants benefit by having a lawsuit start later than it should. If a lawsuit must occur, most defendants would prefer to have it done with as soon as possible.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for a Qui Tam Action?
Depending on who is bringing the lawsuit under the False Claims Act, the statute of limitations will be three, six or 10 years.
When the federal government prosecutes the violator, the statute of limitations is three years from when the government knew or should have known the important facts about the fraud. However, regardless of when the federal government learns about the fraud, it must prosecute the violator under the False Claims Act within ten years of the alleged fraud. This 10-year time limit applies even if the government does not learn the important facts about the fraud until after this 10-year time limit expires.
When an individual brings a whistleblower lawsuit, figuring out the statute of limitations is a little bit easier. Here, the individual (also called a relator) must file the qui tam lawsuit within six years of the alleged fraud.
There is another statute of limitations deadline that can come up under the False Claims Act. It deals with situations where a whistleblower suffers retaliation for reporting the fraud to the federal government.
The False Claims Act allows a whistleblower who is the victim of retaliation to sue their employer when the employer fires, harasses, demotes or in any way discriminates against them. A whistleblower has three years from the date of the retaliation to bring an anti-retaliation cause of action under the False Claims Act.
When to Start the Statute of Limitations Clock
The qui tam statute of limitations for a whistleblower lawsuit appears straightforward enough. But sometimes things can get a bit complicated. For example, when does a court conclude the fraud takes place? Is it when the violator submits the fraudulent request to the government, such as for an overcharge of a product or service? Or is it when the federal government actually pays the violator? It can be either, with the exact answer depending on which court is hearing the qui tam action. This is a major reason why it’s extremely difficult to try a qui tam action without an attorney.
Another reason to have an attorney when bringing a whistleblower action is to handle situations where the statute of limitations appears to prevent a whistleblower from starting a qui tam action. At first glance, it may appear the whistleblower’s lawsuit will not start on time. But like many other legal rules, there are exceptions.
An attorney is particularly helpful to argue these exceptions in court. Some exceptions include the Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act. This law says that the statute of limitations may stop temporarily if the United States is at war. Given the modern military history of the United States, there is a good chance this law may apply to the whistleblower’s situation. Then what seems like a dead case still has plenty of life and may be able to move forward.
Is Time Running Out on Bringing a Whistleblower Lawsuit?
Click to find out more about qui tam statute of limitations by contacting our legal team at Bothwell Law Group online.