Qui Tam 2018-05-28T22:39:53+00:00

Qui Tam

Qui tam (pronounced “key tam” or “qwee tom”) is a Latin phrase meaning, “who as well for the king as for himself sues in this matter” and is a fancy name for whistleblower cases. Whistleblower cases have a long history in the United States and is a legal provision under the False Claims Act enacted in 1863. Whistleblowers are private persons, usually current or former employees of companies committing fraud against the government. They have knowledge of past and/or present false claims for payment made to the government by a person or company.

Under qui tam, whistleblowers can bring a lawsuit on the government’s behalf to stop the deception and recoup the government’s losses. In fact, qui tam law actually gives whistleblowers a reward for exposing the fraud, and, provides job protection, so, the agency can’t retaliate with job termination. The whistleblower can help both private citizens and government employees bring a lawsuit under the Federal False Claims Act and recover as much as 30 percent of the fraud amount. In addition, a number of state governments have passed similar laws because these help to prevent agencies from being defrauded.


Qui Tam or Whistleblower Cases

The False Claims Act was put in place by the United States government during the Civil War, in 1863. Its purpose is simple, but vital; to provide a means of incentives and protection for private citizens and government employees to blow the whistle when he or she knows of any individual or company that is defrauding the government. Of course, defrauding the government is an unlawful act, and, someone who blows the whistle is helping to protect not only his or her own interest, but all those being served by the agency which is being defrauded. For example, if a company or individual is charging the government for work not performed and is being paid, someone with knowledge of the deception can come forward, whether that person works for a private company or the government, and expose the fraud.

Qui tam or whistleblower cases work this way: a private individual or government employee learns another individual or business is defrauding a government agency. He or she files a lawsuit on behalf of the government secretly, “under seal,” which means it’s only known about by the Justice Department and the whistleblower. No other parties are told about the investigation so the Justice Department can conduct an investigation to substantiate the whistleblower’s claim.


How the False Claims Act Works

The United States Department of Justice explains the whistleblower statute this way, “The False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. Section 3729 et seq., provides for liability for triple damages and a penalty from $5,500 to $11,000 per claim for anyone who knowingly submits or causes the submission of a false or fraudulent claim to the United States.” There are very strict requirements for filing a qui tam whistleblower lawsuit and the person filing the claim is required to be represented by an attorney. The qui tam lawsuit and supporting documents should provide the government with thorough evidence about the fraud.

After the suit is filed secretly, under seal, it remains secretive for at least sixty days. The only parties aware of the lawsuit are the United States Department of Justice, the local United States Attorney, and to the assigned judge. Aside from these, only the whistleblower and his or her attorney have any knowledge the lawsuit was filed. In fact, the person or company being investigated does not know a qui tam case was even filed.

During the sixty-day period, a law enforcement agency works with the whistleblower’s attorney, Department of Justice and local United States Attorney, to investigate the allegations. The law enforcement agency can be the United States Postal Inspector, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Office of the Inspector General, or another agency.

Upon completion of the investigation, which could actually take several years, the Department of Justice will decide to join or “intervene” the case, move forward with only parts of the case, or, dismiss the claim entirely. The government typically intervenes in only a small number of cases and while whistleblowers have the choice under the False Claims Act to pursue qui tam lawsuits on their own, the likelihood of success is increased when the government intervenes. Of course, if the case is pursued, it’s always possible to settle with the defendant. Defendants found legally responsible under the False Claims Act may have to pay up to three times the government’s losses plus penalties for each false claim.


Example Qui Tam Scenarios

There are many examples and possible circumstances which might be constitute the need for a qui tam whistleblower claim. Some examples include the following:

  • Fraudulent billing to Medicare and/or Medicaid
  • Overbilling or billing for services or procedures not actually provided
  • Knowing selling the government defective and/or dangerous items
  • Requests for payment(s) for products or services which were not provided
  • Drug companies marketing their product for uses that are not approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration

Another example is the recipient of a government grant using funds to pay for expenses which are not related to the grant’s purpose. Of course, there are more scenarios and someone with knowledge about an individual or company defrauding the government should immediately seek legal counsel.


How Whistleblowers Should Proceed

When a person has knowledge and/or evidence of an individual or company defrauding the government, there are important steps he or she needs to take. Here’s how whistleblowers should proceed:

  • Do not waste any time bringing the claim. Time is not a convenience for those who have a potential qui tam whistleblower case. This is not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also, the federal False Claims Act and most state laws stipulate a “first-to-file” rule. This means whoever files a whistleblower claim first is the one entitled to an award, if applicable. Starting the process early is beneficial because there is more time to collect evidence and also to preclude another whistleblower from filing first.
  • Speak to an experienced attorney about the case. Federal law actually requires a qui tam whistleblower to be represented by an attorney because such cases are often very complex. These cases are intricate and require time to develop. It’s important to speak with an experienced legal professional to learn about the options, protections, and possible outcomes in regard to filing a claim.
  • Be patient while the investigation is being conducted. Though the initial investigative period is set at a minimum of sixty days, qui tam whistleblower cases can actually take months or years to investigate. Whistleblowers may have to wait an extensive amount of time before any “action” is taken on the case. Even upon the completion of the investigation, there could be a prolonged period of legal proceedings to wait through.
  • Do not speak about the qui tam whistleblower case to anyone. Silence is essential before and during a qui tam whistleblower case. The person bringing the claim should not speak to anyone, even to co-workers, family members or close friends about the case. This is not only to protect you from possible retaliation, but also, is a requirement of the law.

In addition to these steps, you should understand there is power in numbers and if others have knowledge about the fraud, it’s wise to not to act alone. Different individuals could have additional and specific knowledge about the fraud committed and help shed more to light on the claim.

If you believe you have a whistleblower claim, you should contact an experienced lawyer to discuss your options.

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