Qui Tam/False Claims
If you have discovered evidence demonstrating that your employer may be defrauding the United States government, you may have a civil lawsuit under the False Claims Act called a qui tam action. A federal law known as the False Claims Act rewards whistleblowers who bring a lawsuit to recover funds on behalf of the government as a result of false claims that are submitted to the government for payment. Qui tam lawsuits have been brought to recover funds for Medicare or Medicaid fraud, fraud committed by defense contractors, fraud committed by educational institutions and other kinds of fraud which have a financial impact on the federal government.
The whistleblower should contact an attorney who has experience in bringing qui tam lawsuits, which have their own procedural requirements. All evidence, including documents, should be reviewed by the attorney to determine if the potential lawsuit has merit. Once a decision is made to proceed with a lawsuit, a qui tam action is filed “under seal” in federal court. The lawsuit is kept secret from everyone except the government which will investigate the allegations of fraud through the Department of Justice and the federal agency which has received and paid potentially fraudulent claims. The False Claims Act provides that the qui tam lawsuit remains under seal for 60 days. However, the government usually requests that the seal period be extended so that it can thoroughly investigate the allegations and evidence presented by the whistleblower who is called a “relator.”
At the conclusion of the government’s investigation, it will decide whether to join or “intervene” in the qui tam case; only in a small percentage of cases does the government intervene. The chances of success in a qui tam case increase significantly if the government decides to intervene. Consequently, the relator and his or her attorney should present the best case to the government during the seal period to convince the government that the case is meritorious and will result in a financial recovery for the government. If the government declines to intervene, then the relator may proceed with litigating the lawsuit with private counsel.
Financial recoveries in qui tam lawsuits can be very significant because if a defendant is found liable under the False Claims Act, it may have to pay as much as three times the government’s losses plus penalties for each false claim submitted to the government. If the government intervenes in a qui tam lawsuit and is successful in recovering funds through a settlement or a trial, the relator is entitled to 15 percent to 25 percent of the recovery. If the government does not intervene in the case and it is pursued by the whistleblower and his or her attorney, the whistleblower reward is between 25 and 30 percent of the recovery.