What Is a Qui Tam Action?
A qui tam action is a lawsuit filed by an individual who has direct personal knowledge that a business or person has submitted a claim to the government that is false or fraudulent. A qui tam action allows the government to pursue the person or business that submitted the alleged false claim for payment to the government. The whistleblower (called a “relator”) is the individual who provides this information to the government to investigate, and he/she may be entitled to a percentage of the recovery as a reward for filing the lawsuit. Often the relator will retain legal counsel to investigate the factual and legal issues in developing his/her qui tam lawsuit before approaching the government. Counsel will prepare a legal pleading called a “complaint” and file it under seal so the government may investigate the alleged false claims submitted to the government for payment.
What is the False Claims Act?
Committing an act of fraud against the federal government is obviously illegal. In order to deter fraud, as well as encourage reporting of fraudulent actions against the government, the False Claims Act was created. Under this act, created in 1863, private individuals are incentivized to report any fraudulent acts against the government committed by others in what is known as a qui tam action. This is where a False Claims Act whistleblower plays an important role.
Employees who speak out about fraud by their employer enjoy broad protection from retaliation such as termination, demotion, or harassment. Whistleblowers can also receive financial rewards under the False Claims Act if their allegations are later deemed valid. Employees put themselves at great risk when filing a qui tam Action. From our offices in Red Bank, NJ, Marlton, NJ, Newark, NJ, New York, NY, and Philadelphia, PA , McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. helps employees report the crimes their employer commits while aggressively protecting the right of whistleblowers in New Jersey.
Whistleblower Protections for Qui Tam Actions
The law requires that complaints must be filed under seal to protect the identity of the person who brings the complaint. The person’s complaint will remain confidential as long as the case is under seal or until the lawsuit is settled. By filing under seal, the whistleblower remains protected from retaliation such as demotion or termination. In addition, federal law prohibits employers from taking any action against employees who have filed a lawsuit under the False Claims Act.
Qui Tam Action and The False Claims Act
Under the False Claims Act, Congress provides individual, private citizens who have evidence of fraud against the federal government the right to bring a lawsuit through a qui tam action. Qui tam, meaning “in the name of our king,” allows a private actor, commonly known as a whistleblower or the ‘relator’ in legal terms, can both pursue an action against a defendant and is entitled to a percentage of the recovery amount. The specific amount that can be recovered depends, in part, on whether or not the government intervenes in the action.
Who Can Bring Forth A Qui Tam Action?
A relator, or whistleblower, maintains a cause of action against a defendant if they have evidence that fraud against the government, such as fraud against federal programs or contracts, has been committed. Direct personal knowledge of the fraudulent scheme, and other evidence that false claims were submitted to the government for payment, drives these types of cases.
One of the first things a person must do if they have evidence of fraud is to seek legal representation from an experienced New Jersey qui tam lawyer who has a successful track record for handling whistleblower claims. The qui tam lawyer will file the lawsuit “under seal,” which means that it is kept a secret so that the government can fully investigate the allegations, often with the help of the whistleblower’s lawyer. In some cases, the government may decide to intervene. If not, the plaintiff may continue to pursue legal action on its behalf.
It is important that qui tam action remains confidential, so you must be careful not to discuss your potential case with anyone other than your attorney to protect your ability to recover under the False Claims Act.
Common Examples Of False Claims Act Violations
False Claims Act violations are any fraudulent activities by a company or entity that result in a financial loss to the federal government. This includes conduct outside of the United States, as long as there is federal spending involved. Examples of these violations include, but are not limited to:
- Presenting a claim for payment to the federal government knowing it is false or fraudulent.
- Attempting to get a claim paid by the federal government using a false record or statement.
- Conspiring with other individuals to get the federal government to pay for a false or fraudulent claim.
- Intentionally using false records or statements to avoid satisfying a financial obligation or transmit property to the federal government.
- Overcharging for goods and services provided by government contracts.
- Marketing or promoting drugs or medical devices for uses that have not been approved by the FDA.
- Telemarketers who make direct telephone solicitations with no legitimate medical referral and attempt to induce someone into purchasing medical products.
- Under the New Jersey False Claims Act, fraudulent conduct by contractors and subcontractors who fail to do their job.
Statute of Limitations for Qui Tam Action
If you have evidence of a fraudulent action taken against the government and are considering filing a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, you must do so within the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for a qui tam action is within three years of the date when facts relevant to the course of action are known or reasonably should have been known, or within six years of when the violation is committed, whichever date comes later. It is important not to wait – contact McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. if you have knowledge of fraud on the government, including the submission of a false and/or fraudulent claim to the government for payment.
Can I Still Be a Whistleblower If I Am Involved in the Fraud?
Yes, even if you are involved in the fraud, you can still be a whistleblower. However, your involvement can affect your reward and potentially subject you to penalties. Consulting with a skilled attorney can help guide you on how best to proceed in such situations.
Can I Remain Anonymous If I File a Qui Tam Lawsuit?
Initially, your identity is protected when you file a qui tam lawsuit because the filing is under seal. However, once the case is unsealed, your identity may become public, although certain circumstances might allow for anonymity to continue. It is crucial to work with an experienced attorney to explore all available options to protect your identity.
What Happens if the Government Decides Not to Intervene in My Case?
If the government chooses not to intervene, you have the option to pursue the case on your own. Although this might be more challenging, success is still possible. The guidance of a skilled qui tam attorney is essential in such scenarios.
What Kind of Evidence is Considered Substantial in Qui Tam Cases?
In qui tam cases, substantial evidence often includes clear, compelling materials that point to fraudulent activity. It’s beneficial to gather:
Document Evidence: Including emails, memos, and financial records that depict the fraud.
Testimonial Evidence: Witness statements can be pivotal in substantiating your claims.
Data and Reports: Analytics or reports that highlight discrepancies or fraudulent activities.
Correspondences: Any form of communication that indicates knowledge or intent of fraud by the defendant.
Your attorney will guide you in assembling and presenting the most compelling evidence.
Are There Protections Against Harassment and Other Forms of Retaliation for Whistleblowers?
Yes, whistleblowers are protected under the False Claims Act from retaliation in various forms, including, but not limited to, the following:
- Job Termination: Being fired unjustly due to your whistleblower activities.
- Demotion: Facing a demotion at your workplace.
- Harassment: Enduring harassment in the workplace.
- Discrimination: Facing any form of discrimination for your actions as a whistleblower.
If you experience retaliation, you may be entitled to remedies such as job reinstatement, double back pay, and compensation for any other damages suffered, including legal fees. Consulting with an experienced attorney can help you understand and assert your rights under the protections afforded to whistleblowers.
How Do I Choose the Right Attorney For a Qui Tam Case?
Choosing the right attorney involves assessing their experience, track record in qui tam cases, and their expertise in the False Claims Act. It is advisable to consult with potential attorneys to understand their approach and ensure a collaborative and communicative attorney-client relationship. Opt for an attorney who is well-versed in representing whistleblowers and demonstrates a commitment to protecting your rights.
Get Help From Qualified NJ Qui Tam Action Attorneys
At the law office of McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C., our qui tam attorneys in New Jersey are available to help you navigate a qui tam action if you have evidence of another defrauding the government. Please contact our lawyers today for a free consultation to discuss the best course of action for your False Claims Act case.