The phrase "qui tam" may be unfamiliar to you, but if you ever find yourself in a "whistleblower" capacity, it will have great meaning.
"Qui tam" is actually short for "Qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso". In Latin, the phrase roughly translates to "Who sues on behalf of the King, as well as for himself."
Qui tam laws allow a person to sue on behalf of the government and, consequently, recover a percentage of any monetary awards that are given as a result of the lawsuit. It's a part of the United State's False Claims Act.
A qui tam lawsuit is shrouded in a bit of mystery. When a qui tam relator (the person who acts as the "whistleblower" against a company that may be defrauding the government) files a civil lawsuit in federal court, the claim is sealed. Therefore, allegations can be investigated without the defendant knowing.
After a qui tam lawsuit filing, the government has about two months to determine if it feels there is enough evidence to proceed with a case of fraud against the defendant. Not surprisingly, the government often discovers that the timeframe is not long enough to determine whether a case has merit; therefore, it may extend the timeframe to several years, pending the results of preliminary investigation. During this time, the lawsuit is still sealed and the defendant still is unaware that it is being scrutinized for illegal activity.
If the government decides the qui tam lawsuit does not merit its assistance, the government will decline to proceed with the case. At this point, the whistleblower can continue without the government, though it's often difficult (but not impossible) to win a case without the government on his or her side.
If the government agrees with the plaintiff that the qui tam case should be prosecuted, it will contact the defendant. Many times, the defendant agrees to some kind of settlement prior to any records being unsealed; therefore, the public may never become aware of the qui tam lawsuit and its settlement results.
The qui tam relator receives a percentage of any monetary settlement as a reward for blowing the whistle on illegal activity. That percentage varies, though it's usually more than 15% and may be significantly higher. The qui tam relator's attorney will then receive his or her fees as an extra part of the settlement so the relator does not have to pay for legal services out of pocket.
If you have information on government fraud or other illegal activities, please contact our office today. Together, we can determine if the evidence supports a qui tam lawsuit filing.