Whistleblower Claims FAQs

Qui tam, or whistleblower lawsuits, are complex federal cases which can take years to complete. The attorneys at Riddle & Brantley, LLP understand that you may have questions about your rights under the Fair Claims Act, and have compiled this list of our most frequently asked questions to help you and your family make an informed decision about your legal options. If you have additional questions about qui tam cases, call (800) 525-7111 to speak with an experienced attorney today.

 

The Basics

What is a qui tam case?

Qui tam cases are lawsuits filed against a person or entity by a private citizen on behalf of the government. Qui tam cases are more commonly known as whistleblower lawsuits, as the person who files the case is “blowing the whistle” and exposing fraud or wrongdoing against the government.

What is the False Claims Act?

The False Claims Act is a federal statute which makes it illegal to file a false claim for payment with the government or with a government program. The statute gives citizens the ability to sue on behalf of the government to expose people or companies who are making false claims.

What is the difference between qui tam and the False Claims Act?

Qui tam refers to the action of filing a lawsuit on behalf of the government. The False Claims Act is one statute which authorizes qui tam cases in certain circumstances (i.e., after someone makes a false claim).

Other statutes also authorize qui tam actions, such as the Internal Revenue Service’s Whistleblower Act and the Security and Exchange Commission’s Whistleblower Act. In addition to federal statutes, many states have laws allowing qui tam actions for fraud against the state government.

What types of fraud does the False Claims Act cover?

The False Claims Act covers most instances of fraud involving a federally-funded program like Medicare, Medicaid, construction contracts, or defense projects. The number of possible scenarios where fraud could be committed are limitless, but in general, they consist of four general actions:

  1. Knowingly presenting to the federal government a false claim for payment;
  2. Knowingly using a false record or statement in order to get a claim paid by the federal government;
  3. Conspiring to get a false or fraudulent claim paid by the government; and/or
  4. Using a false record or statement to conceal, avoid or decrease an obligation to pay money to the federal government.

An exception to these claims are actions to avoid the payment of federal taxes. Tax fraud is covered by the IRS Whistleblower statute.

What is a relator?

Normally, the person who begins a lawsuit is called the plaintiff. In qui tam actions, the person who brings the suit is referred to as the relator. The relator is actually suing on behalf of the federal government, who would be the plaintiff.

Who can be a relator?

Any person who has legitimately obtained evidence of fraud which is not public knowledge may be able to file a qui tam case. Actions under the False Claims Act are commonly brought by employees or former employees of an individual or business who is committing fraud. Sometimes, knowledge of fraud may come from family members, significant others, or friends who are aware of the fraudulent activity.

Before Filing a Qui Tam Lawsuit

Are there time limits or deadlines for filing a suit?

Yes. A qui tam lawsuit under the False Claims Act must be brought within 6 years of the illegal action, or within three years of the time when the government knew of, or should have known of, the fraudulent activity, as long as it is brought within ten years of the fraud.

More importantly, you must be the first to file your qui tam lawsuit against your employer or former employer, or your case will be barred. You also cannot file a qui tam lawsuit based on publicly-known information, which means that if the media becomes aware of the fraud, you may lose your ability to file a claim.

Do I need an attorney to file a qui tam case?

Yes, you need a qui tam attorney to represent you in your whistleblower case. While individuals are allowed to represent themselves in court, a relator is not representing himself or herself—instead, he or she is representing the federal government. No one can represent another person or entity except for a licensed attorney. Accordingly, pro se False Claims Act cases will be dismissed.

What kind of evidence do I need?

In order to file a qui tam lawsuit under the False Claims Act, you will need to have actual proof of wrongdoing which has been legitimately obtained. You will need to have evidence which is not available to the public, and which you did not obtain illegally. Generally, evidence consists of emails, documents, records of conversations, etc., which were obtained during a person’s normal business activities.

Do I need to inform my employer or the government of suspected fraud before filing a claim?

Generally, no. Always consult with your experienced qui tam attorney to discuss your personal course of action and determine if your evidence of fraud may need to be disclosed. However, any time you discuss fraud with your employer or the government, you run the risk that the federal government will file a False Claims Action before you, and you could lose your ability to recover.

How much money could my employer be forced to pay if I prove fraud against the government?

A person or entity that commits fraud against the federal government can be liable for treble (triple) damages as well as various civil fines for each count of fraud. So, if a company overbilled the Medicaid program by $100,000, that company may need to repay $300,000 in damages in addition to smaller fines.

How much money could I receive if my qui tam lawsuit is successful?

A successful relator who wins a qui tam lawsuit is eligible to receive anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of the government’s recovery. The exact amount you will recover depends on the amount your attorney negotiates with the government, and whether or not the government intervened in your qui tam case.

After Filing a Qui Tam Lawsuit

What happens after my case is filed?

After your case is filed, the federal government will investigate your allegations through the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Your case will remain under seal, meaning that it will be kept secret from your employer, until the government has finished its investigation. Once the investigation is completed, the government will either intervene (or join) in the case as a party, or it will decline to intervene.

Will my employer know I filed the lawsuit?

Eventually, yes. At first, your lawsuit will be filed under seal and kept secret while the government investigates. This investigation process could take months or even years. Once the investigation is completed, however, your employer will be served with a complaint that will name you as the relator.

Does the False Claims Act protect me from retaliation by my employer?

Yes. The False Claims Act prevents your employer from discharging, demoting, suspending, threatening, harassing, or discriminating against you for taking lawful steps towards investigating a violation of the False Claims Act.

However, be advised that your employer may take action against you anyway, and it could be years before you receive redress for these wrongs in court. If you have been fired for whistleblowing, you will likely need to hire an experienced attorney who can fight your termination under applicable state and federal laws.

Will the government get involved in my case?

Maybe. The federal government intervenes in about 25% of all False Claims Act cases filed. If the federal government declines to participate in the case, most qui tam cases will end. The relator does have the option of pursuing the case without the help of the government, but it is a more difficult path to take.

How long will my case take to resolve?

Most qui tam cases take several years to resolve. The case may take longer depending on what evidence there is of fraud and how complex the issues are. The majority of cases last between 1 to 8 years.

How Riddle & Brantley Can Help

Will I need to pay Riddle & Brantley up front?

No, Riddle & Brantley, LLP works on a contingent basis, which means that we only get paid if you win your case.

Will Riddle & Brantley take my case even if I need to sue in another state?

Yes, Riddle & Brantley, LLP will help you determine the best court for your case, no matter where it may be located. Our attorneys will help you through every step of the process, and will be with you until your case ends.

Why should I choose Riddle & Brantley?

At Riddle & Brantley, LLP, our experienced attorneys have handled complex litigation cases from beginning to end. We know that filing a qui tam lawsuit can be stressful, and will guide you through the steps from beginning to end. Our firm will give you the personal attention that you and your case deserve, and will fight to get you the compensation you deserve for uncovering fraud.

For additional information about this whistleblower FAQ, or to have your qui tam case reviewed for free, call (800) 525-7111 or use our case evaluation form. At Riddle & Brantley, LLP, our attorneys have the knowledge you need on your side when you are thinking about filing a whistleblower case. Our North Carolina lawyers can assess your case for strengths and weaknesses, and help you present the best case possible to the federal government.