Whistleblowers, Scammers, and the Law: What is the False Claims Act, and how does it relate to qui tam lawsuits?
The False Claims Act (FCA), also known as the “Lincoln Law,” dates back to the American Civil War. At a time when war profiteers were taking advantage of the government by selling shoddy goods and services, President Lincoln and Congress recognized the need for a tool to combat fraudulent activity. Thus, the FCA was born in 1863.
In its essence, the FCA is a federal law that prohibits individuals and entities from submitting false or fraudulent claims for payment to the government. Over the years, the law has evolved to cover not only direct claims but also those submitted indirectly through government-funded programs, such as Medicare and defense contracts.
Qui Tam Lawsuits – The Power of the People
Now that we’ve established the foundation of the FCA, let’s explore the fascinating concept of qui tam lawsuits, a crucial element in the world of whistleblower litigation.
Qui tam is a Latin abbreviation for “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur,” which roughly translates to “he who sues for the king as well as for himself.” This ancient legal principle allows private citizens, called “relators,” to file a lawsuit on behalf of the government against those who have defrauded it.
Under the FCA, relators can be awarded a portion of the recovered funds, typically ranging from 15% to 30%, giving them a strong financial incentive to come forward with information about fraudulent activity. This unique provision empowers ordinary citizens and helps the government to identify and prosecute cases that might otherwise fly under the radar.
So how exactly does a qui tam lawsuit unfold? It begins with a relator, often an employee or former employee of the accused entity, gathering evidence of fraudulent activity. They then enlist the help of a lawyer to file a sealed complaint with the federal court.
This confidentiality is vital, as it allows the government time to investigate the allegations without alerting the accused party. If the government decides to intervene, it takes over the prosecution, while the relator and their legal team continue to play a vital role in the case. If the government declines, the relator can still pursue the case independently.
The FCA’s Lasting Impact on Society
The Department of Justice has played a pivotal role in handling False Claims Act cases, often working closely with U.S. Attorneys and relators to ensure that those who defraud the federal government are held accountable. Qui tam cases have spanned a wide range of industries, with healthcare fraud – including Medicaid fraud and illegal kickbacks – frequently making headlines.
In recent years, the Supreme Court has handed down decisions that have shaped the interpretation and application of the False Claims Act, while amendments to the law have sought to clarify its scope and strengthen protections for whistleblowers. In New York and other states, local versions of the FCA have been enacted to address fraud against state governments.
Qui tam whistleblowers have been instrumental in uncovering a wide range of fraudulent activities, including government contracts and procurement fraud, overbilling, and other types of fraud. These brave individuals often face significant personal and professional risks, which is why the False Claims Act provides whistleblower protection, including reinstatement, back pay, and special damages for those who suffer retaliation.
Navigating the complex legal landscape of qui tam actions can be daunting, which is why it is essential for potential whistleblowers to seek legal advice from a reputable law firm specializing in this area of law. Qui tam attorneys are well-versed in the intricacies of the FCA, its qui tam provisions, and the statute of limitations that governs these cases.
District courts across the nation handle False Claims Act cases, with relators – or qui tam relators – serving as the original source of information about fraudulent activities. Under the United States Code (U.S.C.), qui tam provisions enable private individuals to file a lawsuit on behalf of the United States government, using the Latin phrase “United States ex rel.” in the case caption to indicate their role as a relator.
Furthermore, the FCA allows for the recovery of reasonable attorneys’ fees, ensuring that qui tam relators are not burdened with the cost of legal representation.
A Call to Arms in the Fight Against Fraud
The False Claims Act, with its qui tam provisions, has proven to be an invaluable tool in the fight against fraud, waste, and abuse. By empowering whistleblowers to act as private attorneys general, it encourages the exposure of fraudulent schemes that might otherwise go undetected.
As we continue to witness high-profile cases and the relentless pursuit of justice, it is essential to remember that ordinary citizens play a critical role in protecting the integrity of our government and safeguarding taxpayer dollars. With the support of skilled qui tam attorneys and the unwavering commitment of the Department of Justice, the FCA will undoubtedly continue to serve as a powerful weapon in the battle against corruption and fraud.