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What is Qui Tam?

This page includes an overview of the basics of qui tam or whistleblower lawsuits, including common elements of these claims, who can be a qui tam whistleblower, evidence in these claims, how the case works, and government involvement in a qui tam claim.

It is extremely important for a potential whistleblower to understand what meets the grounds for a qui tam lawsuit. When a type of fraud could be a violation of the False Claims Act, this entitles a potential whistleblower to initiate a qui tam claim.

Qui tam claims are often brought forward by private citizens who have awareness, knowledge and evidence of actions of fraud that have harmed the US government. Qui tam enables a private individual who assists with the prosecution to receive part of a penalty imposed on anyone who has been accused of fraud and settles the case or is convicted.

Who Is a Qui Tam Whistleblower?

Employees who discover illegal or dishonest activities in a company are put in a difficult position. On the one hand they may be concerned about their potential employer taking action against them. An employee also might want to avoid participation in illegal activities but could be afraid of losing their source of income and their job as a result.

Many of these employees choose to take the ethical road of reporting potential concerns of fraud. When these people assist with exposing illegal or dishonest activities that occur within the behavior, they could be classified as a qui tam whistleblower.

Taking the formal action of bringing a lawsuit against the accused party is often connected with a whistleblower. However, bringing up these concerns and alerting internal supervisors or government authorities is considered protected activity for whistleblowers. When a person engages in protected activity under good faith that fraud has occurred, the employer is prohibited from demoting, firing, or otherwise discriminating against that employee due to the whistleblowing actions.

Evidence in Qui Tam Cases

The strength of the evidence in a claim has an important impact on the whistleblower or the government’s ability to succeed in the case. The evidence should first be presented to a whistleblower attorney to discuss whether more needs to be collected.

The best examples of evidence in these cases is anything in the written form like documents and emails. This is why most whistleblowers are current or former employees who would have access to these kinds of details.

The Connection Between a False Claims Act and Qui Tam Lawsuits

Qui tam lawsuits is the term used to refer to civil suits that are brought forward by whistleblowers under the False Claims Act. The purpose of these actions is to stop many different types of fraud against the government, hold the relevant individuals or companies accountable, and entitle the government to potential recovery.

Some of the most common forms of fraud that can give rise to a qui tam lawsuit include:

  • Knowingly using false records to decrease, conceal, or avoid obligations to pay money to the federal government such as tax fraud.
  • Conspiring with others to get a fraudulent claim paid by the federal government.
  • Knowingly using a false statement or record to get a false claim paid.
  • Presenting to the government any fraudulent claim for payment.

What Occurs During Qui Tam Lawsuits?

An employee who has evidence that his or her employer or former employer is involved in activities that defraud the government can sue the employer on the government’s behalf. This means that the qui tam whistleblower is also entitled to recover compensation for that fraud on behalf of the government. The False Claims Act both enables whistleblowers to receive job protection and assists with the recovery of potential compensation through the case.

Elements of a Qui Tam Case

It is important for an employee to understand whether or not they have a strong qui tam whistleblower case before taking action. One of these steps can be by consulting with an experienced whistleblower lawyer prior to initiating a case. The following criteria are seen as base elements of a whistleblower claim:

  • The employee in question has firsthand or personal knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing.
  • There are documents or other types of evidence confirming the illegal activities.
  • There is a significant amount of money at stake that has already defrauded the government.
  • The qui tam action falls under the laws of the applicable statute of limitations.

If all of these different criteria have been met, then a whistleblower should consider consulting with a qui tam lawyer. The whistleblower system is extremely complicated and a whistleblower might also wish to have a place to ask questions and identify resources as it relates to potential retaliation claims. There are many different types of qui tam lawsuits, including defense contractor fraud, Medicare and Medicaid fraud, IRS tax fraud, medical device fraud, securities and commodities fraud, and more.

Government Intervention in a Qui Tam Case

The government can take an initial 60 day period to evaluate the claims made in the case. In many cases, the government also extends this period of time that the case is under seal. During the time the case is under investigation and seal, no one else knows about the existence of the case.

It is not uncommon for qui tam cases to be under seal for a year or longer. The government does not intervene in every instance of a False Claims Act case, even when the whistleblower believes that he or she has substantial evidence of wrongdoing. The government intervenes in approximately one out of every five cases initiated by qui tam attorneys. The government often chooses to get involved in cases in which they believe they have a potential for substantial recovery in a case. Many cases involving the federal government were settled or led to a favorable judgement for the government.

Qui tam whistleblowers could receive potential compensation for up to 30% of the amount recovered in a case. The percentage of possible recovery that the whistleblower obtains in a qui tam action is higher if the government does not intervene but the overall recovery is typically higher when the government does intervene and pursues the case.     

If you think you have evidence of fraud, now is the time to set up a meeting with a qui tam lawyer to discuss options and next steps.

Sources:

http://apps.americanbar.org/abastore/products/books/abstracts/5150321chapter1_abs.pdf

https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4675&context=uclrev

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