Whistleblower / Qui Tam
What is a whistleblower (“qui tam”) claim?
Every day millions of dollars are stolen from the United States government and the State of California by persons who have wrongfully obtained public funds or failed to pay monies owed to the government. This often happens due to fraud on the part of a company or individual. Whistleblower laws have been put in place to allow individual citizens to bring claims against these bad actors by filing confidential lawsuits to protect taxpayers.
Who can be a whistleblower?
Any individual with information of fraud against the government. Most commonly this occurs with employees or contractors of a company committing a fraud. A whistleblower who brings such a claim is called a “relator.”
How to bring a whistleblower claim
First, a whistleblower with knowledge of such fraud should hire an experienced “qui tam” attorney who knows what to investigate and to whom and how to “relate” the information. The lawyer will then investigate the information, review any documents and advise the “relator” on the next steps, which may include filing a lawsuit on behalf of the government. That attorney will then file the claim “under seal” meaning that is kept confidential, while only putting the government (not the wrongdoer) on notice of the case.
What happens next?
After a “qui tam” lawsuit is filed, the government investigates the allegations using resources private individuals and lawyers may not have access to. The government then determines whether it will “intervene” in the case and take over prosecution of the claim. If a person or company is found liable under the False Claims Act, the defendant may have to pay multiples of the amount of the government’s actual losses. The “relator” will then be entitled to a percentage of the recovery if the case is successful.
How is a whistleblower rewarded?
Because the purpose of the False Claims Act is to encourage private citizens to come forward to protect taxpayers, often at great risk to themselves, a whistleblower in a successful case will be entitled to a percentage (usually between 15%-25%) of the total recovery to the government. The exact amount of the whistleblower reward will be determined by the quality of information relayed and the work by the whistleblower and his/her attorney during the case.
What are the protections for whistleblowers?
· Protection against retaliation;
· Relief for an employee, contractor or agent who is fired, demoted, suspended or harassed by the wrongdoer;
· Protection from prosecution (potentially).