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Qui Tam Litigation: What is the False Claims Act?

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We talk about qui tam, or whistleblower litigation, but what is the False Claims Act (FCA) that brings rise to this type of litigation.

Qui Tam Defined

The word qui tam is Latin and translates to “who as well”, and references lawsuits that are brought on behalf of the plaintiff and the government. These are lawsuits brought by a private citizen, or whistleblower, against an individual or company believed to be in violation of a government contract or government regulation, when there is an applicable statute that outlines a penalty for any violations of said regulation or contract. In a qui tam action, the plaintiff, or whistleblower, will be entitled to a percentage of the settlement as a reward for exposing the violation or fraud, and helping the government recover owed funds.

False Claims Act

The Federal False Claims Act, 31 U.S. Code §3729, was enacted during the Civil War as a means to combat fraud against the government. You may hear it referred to as “Lincoln’s Law” as well. Unfortunately, it was not widely used until 1986 when an overhaul of the statute provided more motivation to litigate cases under the Federal False Claims Act.

Despite multiple wars since it was enacted, the False Claims Act wasn’t heavily used as the government relied on existing criminal statutes to handle the misuse of funds and contractor fraud. During the 1980’s, military spending became a hot button issue, and the statute was once again a topic of conversation, prompting a fresh look at the FCA.

By the 1990’s, it was no longer just defense contractors primarily on the hook for fraud. Healthcare fraud was emerging as a serious concern as well. Bills submitted to Medicaid and Medicare sometimes included treatments that were not covered or approved.  Today, the False Claims Act is the primary tool the government has at their disposal in their quest to reduce and stop fraud against the United States government, with the healthcare industry accounting for a large portion of the cases.

The significant rise in lawsuits related to the Federal False Claims Act is directly related to qui tam lawsuits. The qui tam provisions enable whistleblowers, or “Relators,” to bring a False Claims Act lawsuit on behalf of the government. The government learns about much of the fraudulent behavior against them through the assistance of these whistleblowers.

Whistleblower Protections

To encourage people to come forward in these matters, the government has enacted federal law protections for whistleblowers who fear retaliation from their employers. To be protected under the specific acts, the employee must have a “good faith belief” that their employer is violating the law. State laws protect employees in many states with general statutes that forbid discrimination or retaliation against whistleblowers. State laws vary widely, so it’s best to check with a knowledgeable qui tam litigation attorney before making a formal complaint.

If you’re working for a company, or a government contractor, and you believe there is fraudulent behavior or claims being submitted, you need to work with an attorney who can guide you through the whistleblower process. Please contact the team at McCabe Rabin, P.A. today for a consultation.

Resource:

gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title31/pdf/USCODE-2011-title31-subtitleIII-chap37-subchapIII-sec3729.pdf

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