What Is A Whistleblower? What Is A Relator?
Whistleblowers are individuals who come forward to stop a fraud, crime, or other wrongdoing against the government and are often referred to as “relators.” Whistleblowers report violations of the law in order to protect the government and the general public. Whistleblowers may receive awards if the information they report leads to a recovery by the government.
Where Does “Qui Tam” Come From?
Whistleblower lawsuits are often known as qui tam lawsuits. This name is derived from the Latin phrase qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur, which means “[he] who sues in this matter for the king [and] himself.” The qui tam label applies to whistleblower lawsuits because, in addition to recovering for the government, whistleblowers can keep a portion of the government’s recovery for themselves.
What Is The False Claims Act?
The False Claim Act (FCA) refers to a federal statute that, broadly speaking, prohibits false or fraudulent claims to the federal government and related misconduct. Passed in 1863 in response to rampant contractor fraud during the Civil War, the FCA is also known as “Lincoln’s Law.” Besides the federal FCA, many states and some local government entities have enacted their own false claims laws, which largely mirror the federal statute.
What Is A Qui Tam Lawsuit?
Qui tam lawsuits help the government uncover fraud and recover funds for taxpayers. In a qui tam lawsuit, a whistleblower brings a case under the federal, state, and/or local False Claims Act, alleging that the defendant has committed fraud against the government. The qui tam plaintiff, or “relator,” sues on behalf of the government. Successful qui tam plaintiffs are rewarded with a portion of the government’s recovered funds.
What Are The Most Common Types Of Fraud?
WMH represents whistleblowers with knowledge of fraud against the government in a variety of industries. The following categories only list the most common types of misconduct. Generally, most types of misconduct resulting in a financial loss to the government may allow a whistleblower to bring a qui tam case or other whistleblower proceedings. We encourage anyone with knowledge of misconduct involving government funds to contact us for a confidential evaluation.
Common types of fraud prosecuted through qui tam lawsuits include:
- Kickbacks paid to medical providers to induce the providers to write prescriptions for referred patients
- Pricing and bid-rigging scams involving federal funds
- Unlawful marketing and/or unlawful pricing of prescription drugs
- Off-label marketing
- Underpaying Medicaid Rebates, including Best Price and Average Manufacturer’s Price schemes
- Inflating Average Sales Prices
- Fraudulently inducing the FDA to approve a drug
- Healthcare Fraud, including:
- Billing for medically unnecessary services
- Billing for service not performed
- Billing for services that are not reimbursable, such as services provided in violation of the Stark Law
- Billing for services performed by a provider who lacks proper credentials
- Inflating cost reports
- Tax, securities, or commodities fraud
- Selling defective medical devices or other products paid for by the government
- Fraudulently inducing the FDA to approve a medical device
- Creating and submitting invoices for work not performed or goods not provided
- Bribes to foreign officials
- Underpaying money or rebates owed to the government, including failure to escheat unclaimed property, and failure to pay Medicaid rebates
The timeframe for resolving a whistleblower lawsuit varies greatly from case to case—from a few months to several years. Most cases will take several years before resolving.
In addition to False Claims Act lawsuits, various government agencies, including the SEC, IRS, and FTC, allow for whistleblower awards.
Who Can Be A Whistleblower?
Anyone with information about a fraud perpetrated against the government can be a qui tam whistleblower. A whistleblower is typically an insider who has information about the defendant’s misconduct—usually an employee of the company, a competitor, a former employee, an independent contractor, a vendor, or another service provider. However, you don’t need to be an “insider” to bring a qui tam case: anyone with knowledge of misconduct can be a whistleblower.
How Does A Whistleblower Start A Qui Tam Action?
A whistleblower begins a qui tam action by filing a complaint under seal. The government then reviews the complaint to investigate the alleged fraud and decides whether to join the case. The allegations in the complaint remain secret until the government has decided whether to join or “intervene” in, the case. For cases filed in federal court under the False Claims Act, the complaint is sealed for 60 days while the government investigates the fraud. During the seal period, only the plaintiff, the court, and the Department of Justice (for investigative purposes) have access to the complaint. Courts also regularly grant extensions of the sealing period to give the government more time to investigate. Cases typically remain under seal for more than a year, and often for several years.
If the government intervenes, it takes control over the case, with the participation of the whistleblower and his/her lawyers. However, the government intervenes in only a small percentage of filed cases. If the government does not intervene, the whistleblower and his/her lawyers may pursue the case on their own.
What Are The Potential Damages?
Defendants in qui tam lawsuits may be required to pay up to three times the damages (treble damages) suffered by the government, plus penalties. While damages figures may be proven at trial, almost all successful qui tam lawsuits result from settlements negotiated prior to trial.
Monetary awards reward whistleblowers that come forward by compensating them if the case results in a financial recovery. The monetary award to a whistleblower depends on the amount that the defendant pays in damages.
Typically, whistleblowers are entitled to awards of 15-25 percent of the collected amount in cases in where the government intervenes, and awards of 25-30 percent of the collected amount in cases in where the government does not intervene. The awarded amount is based on a set of factors that weigh the contributions of the whistleblower and his or her attorney.
What Protections Are Whistleblowers Afforded?
The federal False Claims Act prohibits companies from retaliating against any employees, agents, and contractors for filing a qui tam action or attempting to stop violations of the FCA. In addition, most state and local False Claims Acts have similar prohibitions against retaliation for reporting or attempting to stop fraud. Retaliation can take many forms, including termination, demotion, suspension without pay, and harassment. If a company engages in illegal retaliation, an individual may typically obtain various forms of relief, including reinstatement, back-pay, and additional damages.
Does It Cost Anything To Pursue A Whistleblower Case?
WMH represents whistleblowers on a contingent basis. A whistleblower is not responsible for upfront costs or attorney’s fees. If the representation is successful, the law firm receives a portion of the whistleblower’s share of the government’s recovery. In some instances, the defendant will be responsible for legal fees.
Will My Identity Be Protected If I Pursue A Whistleblower Case?
Please see the information provided on our confidentiality page.
To schedule a free and confidential consultation call 888.384.2588 or click here.
This website contains general information about Walden Macht & Haran LLP. The information on this website is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on as, legal advice, and it is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship.