In today’s Fast Legal Answers series I will talking about “qui tam” cases. In short, a qui tam lawsuit is a claim brought by a private individual on behalf of the government. Most often, qui tam cases arise under the False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. §§ 3729–3733).
What does qui tam mean?
Qui tam is shorthand for the Latin phrase “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur,” meaning “who pursues this action on our Lord the King’s behalf as well as his own.” Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. United States ex rel. Stevens, 529 US 765, 768 fn1 (2000). In plain English, it represents a circumstance where an individual brings a case on behalf of the government.
What is a qui tam civil action?
A qui tam civil action is a civil case that is brought by a private citizen referred to as a “relator” on behalf of the government. As mentioned above, these actions commonly arise in the context of the False Claims Act. Usually, the relator is a whistleblower who worked at a company that has defrauded the government of money.
What is the False Claims Act?
The False Claims Act is a law intended to encourage individuals to protect the federal government’s interests by initiating suits where the government has been defrauded–subject to false claims–by individuals or corporate entities. Typical examples of cases brought under the False Claims Act include medicare fraud, overcharging by government contractors, and the avoidance of paying customs duties for imported merchandise.
Why would someone file a case on behalf of the federal government?
Relators that initiate qui tam actions can recover between 15-30% of the total judgement the government receives. 31 U.S.C § 3730(d). Many False Claims Act (FCA) cases result in large recoveries as a result of the scale of government contracts and the treble damages allowed under the FCA. Accordingly, 15-30% of a 100 million dollar judgment can be a very large incentive for qui tam claimants to initiate cases on the governments behalf?
What kind of recovery can qui tam relators get?
As mentioned above, the recovery depends on the total judgment, but the relator can typically expect to get between 15-30% of the total judgment. Their attorney will likely take 40% of that 15-30% subject to reimbursement for any costs incurred.
What should I do if I know about a potential False Claims Act issue?
If you personally have witnessed a violation of the False Claims Act at your place of work you should consult with an attorney. These are extremely complex cases and take many years to litigate. There are many procedural hurdles that must be followed not only to preserve the relator’s right of recovery but also to assure the entire lawsuit is viable. For example, the information the qui tam case is based on must not have been publicly available, otherwise, the relator may not be entitled to any share of the recovery. Additionally, FCA cases filed by relators must be done so initially, under seal to allow review by government officials.
If you have questions about the False Claims Act or a potential qui tam action. Do not hesitate to contact us today.