Qui tam is a type of lawsuit based on an ancient writ in common law that allows a private person, known as a relator, to prosecute a lawsuit for the government and receive a reward.
The False Claims Act authorizes qui tam lawsuits to assist the government in prosecuting cases to recover damages and penalties for fraud against the government. If the case is successful, the relator can earn a whistleblower reward.
What is a qui tam lawsuit?
Qui tam lawsuits are a type of whistleblower lawsuit that is brought under the False Claims Act, a law that rewards whistleblowers in successful cases where the government recovers funds lost to fraud. Many states also have false claims acts that prohibit fraud against the state government, which can be enforced through qui tam lawsuits.
A qui tam lawsuit (also called a qui tam action) is a powerful way for whistleblowers to help the government stop many kinds of fraud and recover money for the US Treasury and American taxpayers. Some of the types of fraud alleged in qui tam claims include Medicare and Medicaid fraud, defense contractor fraud and procurement fraud. Qui tam lawsuits have helped to recover billions that have been stolen from the US Treasury and taxpayers.
- Who can become a whistleblower and file a qui tam lawsuit?
- How can whistleblowers safely report fraud and file a qui tam case?
- What happens after a qui tam lawsuit is filed?
- What are the rewards for qui tam whistleblowers?
- How are whistleblowers protected?
- What does “qui tam” mean?
- How is “qui tam” pronounced?
Who can become a whistleblower and file a qui tam lawsuit?
Any individual with information about fraud against the government may become a whistleblower and bring a qui tam lawsuit. This is often an employee of the company committing the fraud, but it also can be a competitor, a contractor or anyone else who has information about the fraud.
An attorney files the qui tam lawsuit on behalf of the whistleblower, who is called a “relator” in qui tam cases. The qui tam lawsuit and supporting documents should provide the government with specific information about the fraud. The law has some restrictions that prevent more than one whistleblower being rewarded for reporting the fraud and prevent qui tam lawsuits that are based on certain public information.
A qui tam lawsuit under the False Claims Act can be based on any of the following violations by an individual or entity that:
- Knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval. Knowingly makes, uses or causes to be made or used, a false record or statement important to a false or fraudulent claim for payment or to an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the government.
- Knowingly conceals or knowingly and improperly avoids or decreases an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the government.
How can whistleblowers safely report fraud and file a qui tam case?
The False Claims Act requires that a whistleblower use an attorney to file a qui tam case. An attorney will put together a complaint that describes the violations that the whistleblower is reporting and how they violate the law.
The qui tam lawsuit is filed in federal district court “under seal,” meaning it is kept confidential so that only the government is aware of the case. The seal gives the government time to investigate the allegations and determine whether it will join the whistleblower’s case. Even the person or entity being accused of fraud is not told about the qui tam case without the court’s permission. The case only becomes public once the government decides whether to join the case.
One of the most important decisions a whistleblower will make is choosing a lawyer. An experienced whistleblower lawyer is an important factor in whether a qui tam case is successful. The False Claims Act has unique procedures and rules. Failure to follow those procedures and rules could be costly. It’s also important to have an attorney who knows how to protect your rights. Thorough research and careful consideration should inform the decision about hiring a whistleblower attorney. See Choosing a whistleblower lawyer, Advice from a successful whistleblower and Pitfalls to avoid for tips.
What happens after a qui tam lawsuit is filed?
After a qui tam case is filed, the government investigates the allegations and determines whether it will join, or “intervene,” in the qui tam case. The False Claims Act states that a qui tam case will be sealed for 60 days while the government conducts its investigation, but courts generally extend the seal period to give the government more time to complete its work.
The government intervenes in only a small percentage of the hundreds of qui tam lawsuits filed each year. When the government intervenes, it has primary control over the case, but the whistleblower and their attorney still participate. Whistleblowers have the option under the False Claims Act to pursue qui tam cases on their own, if the government declines to intervene. The government may ask the court for permission to join the qui tam lawsuit later even if it does not join at the beginning.
Defendants 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. Most successful qui tam cases are resolved through settlement negotiations rather than a court trial, although trials may occur.
What are the rewards for qui tam whistleblowers?
The False Claims Act rewards whistleblowers whose qui tam lawsuits are successful. The law offers rewards to encourage whistleblowers to come forward, recognizing the professional and personal risks they often take to expose and stop fraud against the government – fraud that can endanger the lives of patients, members of the US military and others.
If the government intervenes in the case and the case is successful through a settlement or a trial, the whistleblower, or “relator,” is entitled to 15 percent to 25 percent of the amounts collected by the government. If the government declines to intervene in the case and the whistleblower successfully pursues it, the whistleblower reward is between 25 percent and 30 percent of the amounts collected.
The exact amount of the whistleblower reward depends on many factors, including the quality of the information presented to the Justice Department and the work of the whistleblower and their attorney to help the qui tam case succeed.
Phillips & Cohen has won for their clients more than $1 billion in whistleblower rewards – more than any other law firm that handles whistleblower lawsuits.
How are qui tam whistleblowers protected?
Whistleblowers can safely report fraud and file a qui tam case. Those who file qui tam lawsuits are covered under the provisions of the False Claims Act that prohibit retaliation for filing a qui tam action or for attempting to stop violations of the False Claims Act. The law covers company employees as well as independent contractors and agents.
The False Claims Act provides relief for an employee, contractor or agent who “is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened, harassed, or in any other manner discriminated against in the terms and conditions of employment.”
Those who suffer such retaliation may sue for reinstatement, doubled back pay and additional damages, where appropriate.
For more information, please see our page on whistleblower retaliation.
What does qui tam mean?
Qui tam is short for the Latin phrase “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur,” which roughly translates to “he who brings an action for the king as well as for himself.”
The phrase originated in England in the Middle Ages, when the king enlisted the public to help police violations of the law with the promise of a reward. For more about the origins of the False Claims Act and its qui tam provisions, see History of the False Claims Act.
How is qui tam pronounced?
Qui tam is pronounced many different ways. The most common is “kee tam” (rhymes with “Sam”). Qui tam also is pronounced as “kwee tam,” or “kwee tom” (as in the name, “Tom”).
Phillips & Cohen attorneys have extensive experience with qui tam lawsuits.
Phillips & Cohen LLP is the nation’s most successful law firm representing whistleblowers in “qui tam” (False Claims Act) lawsuits. On behalf of whistleblowers, our lawyers bring qui tam cases involving Medicare fraud and other types of fraud under federal and state false claims laws.
Qui tam lawsuits brought by Phillips & Cohen on behalf of whistleblowers have returned more than $12.3 billion to the US Treasury, making it by far the top whistleblower law firm in the country. We have won more than $1 billion in total whistleblower rewards for our clients.
Phillips & Cohen’s lawyers have represented whistleblowers in qui tam lawsuits for 30 years. A founding partner of the law firm worked closely with Congress to write and pass the modern-day False Claims Act and its qui tam provisions. Another partner is the author of a leading legal reference on the False Claims Act and qui tam lawsuits, The False Claims Act: Fraud Against the Government, that is cited in qui tam cases and court rulings.
Phillips & Cohen attorneys are nationally recognized experts on qui tam lawsuits and other types of whistleblower cases and are frequently quoted in publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Several of their qui tam cases have been profiled on 60 Minutes and other news shows.
If you are aware of fraud against the government and would like to discuss your options, please contact Phillips & Cohen for a free, confidential case review.