An Overview of the False Claims Act, Brought to You by Florida’s Dedicated Attorneys for Whistleblowers
The government recovers billions of dollars every year lost to fraudulent billing and overpayments made to government contractors. A portion of that recovery is paid to the courageous private citizens who blow the whistle on government fraud and take steps to bring the wrongdoers to justice. Read on for an overview of the False Claims Act, and call the attorneys at McCabe Rabin for help pursuing a False Claims Act case in Florida.
History of the False Claims Act
The federal False Claims Act can be found in Title 31 of the United States Code, sections 3279-3233. The False Claims Act, or FCA, is also known as the Lincoln Law, because it was first signed by President Lincoln in 1863 as a way to take action against wartime contractors who were fraudulently overbilling the federal government during the American Civil War.
False Claims Act cases are also sometimes known as qui tam actions. The writ of qui tam, which is short for a Latin phrase referring to a person who sues for the king as well as for himself, was available for hundreds of years in England, and the concept was brought to the United States along with the English common law. The qui tam concept is the same concept behind the False Claims Act, so the terms are used interchangeably.
Illegal Actions under the False Claims Act
There are a variety of illegal activates under the False Claims Act. Below are some common examples:
- Presenting a false or fraudulent claim for payment
- Making a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim
- Conspiring to make a false claim
- Delivering less than the full amount of money or property to the government
- Falsely making or delivering a document certifying receipt of property from the government
- Buying property from a government officer or employee who is not lawfully allowed to sell it
- Making or using a false record or statement material to an obligation to pay money or property to the government, or concealing, avoiding or decreasing an obligation to pay
Intent Required under the False Claims Act
Most of the illegal actions under the False Claims Act have an intent element, requiring that the person performed the action knowing or knowingly. To meet the intent requirement under the law, the person must have acted with actual knowledge, or with deliberate ignorance or reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the action. Proof of a specific intent to defraud the government is not required.
Definition of a Claim
A claim can be any request for money or property presented to a government officer, employee or agent, or government contractor or grantee. The existence of an actual contract is not required.
Penalties and Damages
A violator of the False Claims Act is subject to a civil penalty to the United States government between $5,000 and $10,000 per violation (actual amount is adjusted for inflation annually). In addition, the violator is liable for three times the amount of actual damages caused by the fraud.
If the defendant provided information to the government within thirty days of the violation and cooperated fully before any charges were filed and before the defendant had any knowledge of an investigation, the court may assess damages at only twice the actual amount instead of three times. The defendant will be liable for paying the costs of the civil action.
How Actions are Brought
The Attorney General may investigate and bring an action related to a fraud or false claim. Also, a private person may bring an action in the name of the government. A private person who brings an action is known as the relator.
The complaint is first served on the government, which was 60 days to decide whether to take over the action. If the government takes over, it has primary responsibility in the case, but the relator can continue as a party with a limited right to participate.
If the government declines to pursue the matter, the relator can pursue the action in court. The court may let the government intervene later, but without limiting the status and rights of the relator.
The Award to the Qui Tam Plaintiff
If the government proceeds with the action, the whistleblower gets 15 to 25% of the proceeds or settlement, depending upon the person’s level of participation in the case. The whistleblower also gets reimbursed for reasonable & necessary expenses, attorneys’ fees and court costs.
If the government declines to intervene, and you nevertheless pursue the action on the government’s behalf, you can receive 25 to 30% of the proceeds or settlement, along with reimbursement of your expenses, attorneys’ fees and costs. This amount can be reduced or dismissed if the whistleblower also played some role in the fraud in the first place.
Protection from Retaliation
An employee, contractor or agent is protected from retaliation for blowing the whistle and is entitled to all relief necessary to make the person whole. Relief could include reinstatement, double back pay plus interest, special damages, litigation costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
Call McCabe Rabin for Successful Representation in Your False Claims Act Whistleblower Case
There are many other important aspects to a False Claims Act whistleblower case as well, such as complicated statute of limitations and evidence issues. Make sure you hire an attorney who is experienced in representing whistleblowers in False Claims Act cases. Call McCabe Rabin toll free at 877-915-4040. We can also be reached at our office in West Palm Beach at 561-659-7878, or you can contact us online. Your consultation is free, and we only charge a fee if there is a recovery.