Many people have heard of whistleblowers on the nightly news, or perhaps in movies or on television dramas. However, they may not know exactly what a whistleblower is. Maybe they have never even heard of the term ‘qui tam’ before. So, what exactly is a whistleblower, and why would such a person ever file a lawsuit? Do whistleblowers have any protection while blowing the whistle, and do they receive any compensation for it?
These are just some of the most common questions surrounding whistleblower lawsuits, and the answers to them are below.
What Does ‘Qui Tam’ Mean?
While this Latin term has been around since the 13th century, today, qui tam typically refers to a lawsuit brought under the False Claims Act (FCA). A private citizen files the lawsuit, but on behalf of the U.S. government. These private citizens are known as relators in the lawsuit. Qui tam lawsuits are often referred to as whistleblower lawsuits because someone is blowing the whistle on healthcare fraud, or another type of fraud that hurts the U.S. government and the American people.
What Does the False Claims Act Cover?
There are many violations covered under the False Claims Act. They include:
- Intentionally submitting a fraudulent claim for payment, or causing a fraudulent submission.
- Intentionally making a false statement in order to have a false claim paid or approved.
- Intentionally making a false statement to avoid payment or reduce a payment.
- Conspiracy to defraud the government in an attempt to have a false claim paid.
The FCA generally covers federally-funded contracts or programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The Act’s purpose is to identify all fraudulent activity and stop it. Any time a claim is submitted and it contains false statements, it is a violation of the FCA.
What are the Penalties for Violating the False Claims Act?
When a whistleblower lawsuit is filed and the defendant is found guilty of violating the FCA, the courts can hold them liable. The penalties will vary depending on the circumstances, but defendants are often required to pay three times the amount of damages sustained by the federal government.
Do Whistleblowers Have Any Protection?
Often whistleblowers are employees of the person or company making fraudulent claims. Clearly, blowing the whistle on them could have severe consequences, such as losing your job. There are protections in place for whistleblowers, but they are not effective until after the lawsuit is over. This means that while someone could lose his or her job, if the government is successful in the lawsuit, the whistleblower will likely get that job back. In addition, if the person was fired for blowing the whistle, then he or she is also entitled to back pay in the amount of two times what the employee would have made in income, interest, and compensation for any special damages.
Does a Whistleblower Receive any Compensation?
In order to receive compensation for identifying fraudulent activity, private citizens must file a qui tam, or whistleblower lawsuit. Simply telling the government of the wrongdoing is not enough. If the government is successful and the defendant is required to pay compensation, whistleblowers can receive 15 to 30% of that compensation. Considering that the fraud often involves millions of dollars, whistleblowers do have something to gain by coming forward.
Do I Need a California Qui Tam Lawyer for Help with My Lawsuit?
Yes. Anyone who believes they have uncovered wrongdoing and wishes to hold the contractor responsible needs to speak to a qui tam lawyer in California for help. Qui tam lawsuits are incredibly complex. They involve complicated facts and figures, an understanding of how government contracts work, and a knowledge of the applicable Acts and statutes.
If you think you have discovered any type of fraud against the government, contact Willoughby Brod, LLP today at (800) 427-7020. During your free consultation we will review the facts of your case, determine if you have a valid qui tam claim and if so, help you aggressively pursue it. Do not try and blow the whistle on your own. Call us today or fill out our online form.
(image courtesy of Nicolas Thtomas)