What Is a Fraudulent Concealment?

Mary McMahon

Fraudulent concealment is the deliberate withholding of information material to a case. It may be a particular topic of interest with statute of limitations laws, where plaintiffs may argue that the statute of limitations should be extended because they didn’t have access to the information they needed. This can be grounds for a civil suit over a matter like patent infringement. In criminal cases, concealing information can be grounds for legal penalties and may result in throwing out a case and having to start a new trial.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

A number of standards must be met in order to document that fraudulent concealment occurred. The defendant must have known that the information was material to the case, and must have acted deliberately to conceal it. Additionally, the plaintiff needs to provide proof that due diligence was exercised and the information couldn’t have been uncovered in any other way. Plaintiffs also need to show how the fraudulent concealment harmed them.

Thus, if a defendant such as a corporation hid information pertaining to a patent case and was the only possible source of that information, and the plaintiff can show that the case was lost because of that, it may meet the standard. The plaintiff may be able to argue that the case should be reopened even if the statute of limitations is over because not all the necessary information was available at the time. Part of the presentation of the case can include documentation to show that the defendant acted deliberately and with intent to deceive. Internal memos might show, for example, that company officials directed personnel to conceal information.

An obligation to disclose information can be present in legal cases. Parties who are not sure about the extent of their obligations can discuss the situation with an attorney to determine what they need to turn over and avoid charges of fraudulent concealment. Lawyers work confidentially with their clients and can review information to decide if it is material and must be submitted for review by the opposing side.

Courts are careful with fraudulent concealment cases because they do not want to set up situations where people use this charge to pursue frivolous or dubious cases. If the information was not material to the case, for example, it does not qualify, and a matter will remain closed. Judges can evaluate the information presented to determine whether concealed evidence would have had an impact on the outcome of prior legal activities.

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