What Is a Qui Tam Lawsuit?

One of the many legal terms you will need to be comfortable, qui tam lawsuits are an important part of whistleblowing.

From time to time, the term “qui tam” comes up in law, causing confusion. The concept is actually incredibly simple. But if you haven’t come across it before, it can throw you a little off balance.

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The Definition of qui tam

The phrase qui tam comes from the Latin qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur, meaning “he who sues in this matter for the king as well as for himself.” 

In plain English, a qui tam lawsuit is one in which private individuals can bring a lawsuit on behalf of the government in exchange for part of the damages or financial penalties recovered.

Qui tam provisions appear in many places in the law. However, attorneys most commonly use the term in reference to the False Claims Act

The False Claims Act makes it easier for individuals to report fraud against the federal government—to “blow the whistle.” It offers various protections that help shield whistleblowers from retaliation like losing their careers or financial standing. For that reason, it is one of the most critical pieces of legislation to date. 

How qui tam lawsuits work

In a qui tam lawsuit there are two critical entities: the government and the “relator.”

The relator, or whistleblower, is a person with knowledge of the fraudulent activity. So any individual, for instance, who knows that an organization (usually their employer) is engaging in fraud is a potential relator. 

That individual can then enter into an agreement with the government to share the proceeds from their tip-off. The government usually takes the majority of the recovered money, with the relator receiving a percentage. The government is willing to do this because they work with a vast number of companies and contractors, and there’s no way they can closely monitor all of them for fraud. They need individuals within those organizations to report wrongdoing. Fraud costs the government—and taxpayers—millions. Sharing a portion of the recovery with the relator is well worth it.

Critically, the False Claims Act helps provide protection for the relator. The person bringing the case may worry about retaliation, especially if it is against their employer. For instance, their boss might fire them, reduce their benefits, or harass them until they leave. 

The Act helps protect against this. It allows employees to become whistleblowers on behalf of the government against organizations. 

Sometimes, attorneys use the terms relator and whistleblower interchangeably. They generally mean the same thing.

    Examples of qui tam claims

    This discussion is a little abstract. So let’s take a look at some qui tam action private individuals carry out with assistance from law firms:

    • Charging the government for costs that are not associated with a grant
    • Overcharging for goods and services provided through government contract
    • Selling dangerous of harmful products to the government
    • Asking for payment for goods and services not provided
    • Billing incorrectly on purpose

    As you can see, qui tam cases cover a broad spectrum of claim types. The False Claims Act provides both rewards and protection to employees relating to many types of fraud. 

    In qui tam whistleblower cases in the United States, the government reviews and investigates the claim presented by the relator and their attorney under seal for 60 days. The government then decides whether or not to proceed with the case. Sometimes, they may settle with the organization that committed the fraud. If the government decides to move forward, the relator and their attorney assist the government with the case.

    About the False Claims Act

    The False Claims, originally called the Lincoln Law, was passed in 1863 during the Civil War. However, it has gone through many changes over the course of its life. 

    In 1943, for instance, the government weakened it to rush armament production. It then strengthened it again in 1986 in response to widespread price gouging in the private sector. 

    The qui tam provision is essential because it encourages people to come forward with information. Without qui tam cases, organizations could more easily defraud the government without fear of reprisal.

    Using an attorney for your qui tam lawsuit

    Anyone looking to open a qui tam lawsuit should have the help of an attorney who represents whistleblowers. Deciding to move ahead and report fraud can affect a whistleblower’s personal or professional life.

    Attorneys are helpful in: 

    • Interpreting the evidence you bring forward
    • Helping the government with its investigation
    • Protecting the whistleblower’s integrity in instances where criminal activity has taken place
    • Assisting in making sure that the whistleblower receives a case settlement or judgment

    A qui tam lawyer can also provide a confidential case review.

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