The Basics of Qui Tam / False Claim Act Whistleblower Claims by Jay Babb
Qui Tam claims are a powerful mechanism under the False Claims Act (FCA) that empowers private individuals to expose and combat fraudulent activities that harm government finances. Qui Tam is short for a Latin phrase, “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur,” which roughly translates to “he who sues on behalf of the king as well as for himself.” In essence, a Qui Tam claim is a legal action initiated by a private individual, often called a relator or whistleblower, on behalf of the government. These claims typically relate to cases of fraud against the government, especially in the context of government contracts, programs, or benefits.
Understanding Qui Tam Claims
Qui Tam claims are legal actions initiated by whistleblowers possessing insider knowledge of fraud against the government. These fraudulent activities often involve government funds, contracts, programs, or benefits. Here are a few basics regarding Qui Tam claims:
1. Gather Concrete Evidence: The first step is to collect compelling evidence that supports the allegations of fraud. This can include documents, emails, financial records, or any other tangible proof that strengthens your case.
2. Act Quickly and Do Not Talk to Others About the Case: The law rewards the first person to file a complaint of unknown fraud. There are restrictions under qui tam laws that prevent more than one whistleblower being awarded for reporting fraud and prevent qui tam lawsuits based on certain public information.
3. Consult an Experienced Attorney: It’s important to seek an attorney experienced with Qui Tam cases. They can provide valuable insights, assess the strength of your case, and guide you through the intricate process.
4. Prepare the Formal Complaint: Work closely with your attorney to draft a comprehensive formal complaint. This document should outline the specifics of the fraud, including details about the parties involved and the relevant laws or regulations that have been violated.
5. Filing the Lawsuit: Your attorney takes the lead in filing the complaint in a federal court. Importantly, this complaint is filed under seal, ensuring that it remains confidential during the initial stages of the investigation.
6. Government Investigation: Once the lawsuit is filed, the conducts a thorough investigation into the allegations, which may include interviews, document reviews, and the collection of evidence. Throughout the investigation and subsequent legal proceedings, it’s crucial to cooperate fully with the government. Your continued assistance is essential in building a robust case against the wrongdoers.
7. Government Intervention: If the government’s investigation uncovers substantial evidence of fraud, they may decide to intervene in the lawsuit. This means that the government takes over the case while the whistleblower and their attorney remain actively involved in the process. Even if the government does not choose to intervene, the whistleblower has the option of pursuing the qui tam case on their own.
8. Possible Settlement or Trial: Depending on the strength of the case, it may lead to a settlement between the government and the defendant or proceed to trial. Most successful qui tam claims are resolved through settlement negotiations, although trials do occur. Your attorney will work diligently to advocate for your interests throughout this phase, ensuring that justice is served.
9. Whistleblower Rewards: One of the key incentives for filing a Qui Tam claim is the potential for a financial reward. If the lawsuit is successful, you, as the whistleblower, may be entitled to a portion of the funds recovered by the government. Those found liable under the False Claims Act may have to pay as much as three times the government’s losses plus penalties for each false claim. This financial incentive encourages individuals to step forward and report fraudulent activities.
10. Whistleblowers are Protected: The False Claims Act prohibits retaliation against employees, contractors or agents for filing a qui tam action or for attempting to stop or report violations of the False Claim Act. Any such whistleblower who suffers retaliation may sue for reinstatement and other damages where appropriate.
Filing a Qui Tam claim is undoubtedly a complex and multi-faceted process. However, it plays a crucial role in combating fraud that costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Whistleblowers who bring these claims forward not only protect the public interest but also have the opportunity to benefit from their actions.
If you find yourself in possession of information about fraudulent activities against the government, please give us a call to see if we can help.