When qui tam cases under the False Claims Act (FCA) are first filed, they are to remain under seal for 60 days. During this time, the case is secret. The defendant is not even served yet, so it likely does not know there is a suit filed against it unless there are quiet rumblings or leaks. During this 60-day period, the government is given an opportunity to investigate the allegations and decide whether to join the suit or not. Once the government makes its decision, the case is unsealed. In certain instances, this is when the defendant is served. However, in many cases, the seal is partially lifted and the defendant is served prior to the whistleblower case being made public.
The truth of the matter, though, is that a qui tam case is never under seal for just 60 days. The FCA, the government can ask for extensions of the seal period if they can show it is for good cause. This happens regularly and continuously to the point where many qui tam cases remain confidential for years.
How Long Do Qui Tam Cases Remain Under Seal?
In 2011, qui cam cases involving the federal government were under seal for an average of 13 months. However, since then, the number of FCA cases have increased and the duration of the initial confidentially period has increased.
In May 2017, 21 health care-related qui tam cases were unsealed. Of these cases, only three were under seal for less than one year. The longest seal period was six and half years, while the average for the 21 cases was two years and nine months.
In January of this year, 30 health care-related qui tam cases were made public. Seven of the cases were under seal less than one year, while nine were filed in 2015, keeping them under seal for less than two years. However, 14 of these cases were filed before 2015, which means they were all under seal for a minimum of two years. Some of the cases were filed as far back as 2009, 2010, and 2007.
In October and November 2016, 18 health care-related cases were unsealed. Of these the average time under seal was a little over two years. In this batch of cases, the shortest seal period was less than six months while the longest was more than five and a half years.
What to Expect From a Qui Tam Case?
If you are considering moving forward with a qui tam case, expect it to take a great deal of time. Depending on the strength of your evidence and whether the government was already knowledgeable about the defendant’s actions, you may be one of the lucky ones whose case is made public and resolved within a year or two. However, it is clear that the average case takes a few years. Depending on your allegations, the parties involved, and the government’s current resources and priorities, your qui tam case may not be resolved for three to six years.
Contact a San Francisco Qui Tam Lawyer for Advice
If you believe you have evidence of a health care company making fraudulent claims against the federal government, contact us at Brod Law Firm today at (800) 427-7020 to learn more about qui tam cases and your rights as a whistleblower.