More whis­tle-blower suits pos­si­ble

Modern Healthcare - - NEWS - By Lisa Schencker

In a mixed rul­ing for health­care providers, the U.S. Supreme Court last week re­fused to ex­tend the statute of lim­i­ta­tions in civil fraud law­suits. But the rul­ing could make it eas­ier for some whis­tle-blow­ers to file fraud law­suits over is­sues pre­vi­ously brought to court.

The high court unan­i­mously ruled in Kellogg, Brown & Root Ser­vices Inc. v. United States ex. rel. Carter that the Wartime Sus­pen­sion of Lim­i­ta­tions Act extends statutes of lim­i­ta­tions only in crim­i­nal cases dur­ing times of war, not in civil cases such as those filed by whis­tle-blow­ers un­der the False Claims Act.

But it also de­cided that fed­eral law does not pro­hibit whis­tle-blow­ers from fil­ing cases mak­ing the same al­le­ga­tions as those made in pre­vi­ous cases if the ear­lier cases al­ready had been dis­missed for rea­sons other than their mer­its.

If the court had ex­tended the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for all whis­tle-blower cases, “it would have opened up a flood­gate of ar­gu­ments by whistle­blow­ers that there’s es­sen­tially no statute of lim­i­ta­tions in health­care civil cases,” said Larry Freed­man, an at­tor­ney with Mintz Levin in Wash­ing­ton who de­fends providers in False Claims Act cases.

Mau­reen Mu­dron, deputy gen­eral coun­sel for the Amer­i­can Hos­pi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion, called that “good news for hos­pi­tals.” A dif­fer­ent legal out­come, she said, “would have re­sulted in ef­forts to re­vive decades-old stale civil claims … and im­pose sig­nif­i­cant un­war­ranted costs on health­care providers.”

But Freed­man said the sec­ond part of the rul­ing could en­cour­age “tac­ti­cal games­man­ship” by whis­tle-blow­ers, re­quir­ing providers to de­fend against mul­ti­ple ac­tions.

David Chizewer, an at­tor­ney with Goldberg Kohn, a Chicago law firm that rep­re­sents whis­tle- blow­ers, said that part of the de­ci­sion could mean strong whis­tle-blower cases will no longer be blocked by ear­lier, weaker ones.

It paves “a wider path for the case that is most likely to be suc­cess­ful to see the light of day,” he said.

Health­care in­dus­try groups had ar­gued that whis­tle-blow­ers shouldn’t be al­lowed to file repet­i­tive law­suits af­ter ear­lier, sim­i­lar law­suits were dis­missed.

The pur­pose of whis­tle-blower suits, they said, is to alert the gov­ern­ment to po­ten­tial fraud, mak­ing mul­ti­ple cases about the same is­sue un­nec­es­sary.

The court said, how­ever, that the False Claims Act bars law­suits from be­ing filed only when sim­i­lar cases are “pending,” and that does not in­clude cases that al­ready have been dis­missed. “Why would Congress want the aban­don­ment of an ear­lier suit to bar a later, po­ten­tially suc­cess­ful suit that might re­sult in a large re­cov­ery for the gov­ern­ment?” the opin­ion stated.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.