Congress enacted the False Claims Act (FCA) to hold those who wrongly bill the government accountable with steep financial penalties. Not only does the government expect those who violate the FCA to pay the money back, they can also require treble (or triple) the false claim as well as an additional penalty of $5,000 to $10,000 per violation.
As a result of these harsh penalties, it is common for those who face the allegations to wonder when they can reach a resolution and move on with their lives. The particulars of the timeline will vary depending on the details of the case, but it helps to know the basics to have a better understanding of how it will likely progress.
Those facing these allegations can prepare for a process that generally unfolds as follows:
#1. Investigation begins
The investigation generally begins either when the government has concerns of a violation or when a private citizen files a civil lawsuit. The legal system refers to lawsuits in these situations initiated by a private citizen as a whistleblower or qui tam case. This moves forward in much the same way as other civil lawsuits, with one notable difference: the defendant does not receive notice of the filing. As such, the accused is unlikely to know when the investigation begins.
For qui tam cases, the government will review the filing and if it believes the allegations have merit join the suit. The government has 60 days to investigate the allegations when notified of a quit tam suit. The government can request an extension if it discovers enough during the 60 days to warrant additional investigation.
Upon completion of the investigation, the government must notify the court as to whether it will join, also known as intervene, or decline the proposed action. If it declines, the individual making the allegations can still attempt to move the lawsuit forward.
At this time, the individual initiating the suit (or the government if they have intervened) will notify the accused of the allegations. The accused then has 20 days to respond to this notification.
Wether joined by the government or not, the next step generally involves an attempt to negotiate a settlement.
If negotiations fail, the case will move forward to trial.
Attorney John Rivas is responsible for this communication