Qui Tam lawsuits are brought by private citizens on behalf of the federal government in instances of fraud by persons or corporations . Many of these cases involve health care fraud by pharmacies, hospitals or others for drugs or services through Medicare and Medicaid, both federal governmental programs. Both the federal government and the whistleblower benefit. And like all matters of litigation, statutes of limitations, limiting the time in which the suit may be brought, apply. Once the qui tam statute of limitations has expired the case cannot be brought.
Whistleblower lawsuits (or qui tam ) have become an integral part of the enforcement of the False Claims Act.
The statute of limitations for a qui tam action is found in Section 3731(b) of the False Claims Act. A civil action may not be brought more than six years after the date on which the alleged violation of the False Claims Act is committed, or more than three years after the date on which material facts giving rise to the cause of action are either known or reasonably should have been known, and in no event more than ten years after the violation of the Act.
If this appears confusing, it is. In essence, the second half of this provision tolls the qui tam statute of limitations, providing the government a longer period of time in which to file suit, an additional three years. The question is whether this tolling provision applies in situations in which a private person, or “relator,” or whistleblower brings the suit on behalf of the government. And on this question, the courts are split. In the majority of federal jurisdictions, the courts have ruled that the tolling provision does not apply to the whistleblower. However, there are jurisdictions in which the courts have applied the tolling statutes to the individual whistleblower, effectively extending the statute of limitations.
In addition, in these cases, there is always a question about the date that the violation occurs. Most courts have held that the violation occurs on the date that the false claim is submitted. Other jurisdictions have held that the statute starts to run when the claim is actually paid. This further complicates the issue of the statute of limitations.
Finally, there is a Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act that further tolls the statute of limitations when the United States is at war. Courts have applied this further tolling of the statute of limitations, ruling that the statute of limitations for whistleblower cases has been tolled since 2002 when Congress passed the Iraq War Resolution.
This is a complex area of law and an attorney’s help is needed to navigate the Qui Tam Statute of Limitations and how they are applied within any given jurisdiction.