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What is a qui tam action under the federal False Claims Act?

If you work for an organization that contracts with the federal government, you may have observed questionable or even fraudulent activity. Did you know you could earn a substantial reward by blowing the whistle on fraud, waste or abuse of a federal contract or program? The reward could be between 15 and 30 percent of any money recovered on behalf of the government.

Blowing the whistle in this way typically involves the federal False Claims Act, which allows private citizens to file lawsuits against organizations that knowingly bill the government for more than it should owe. There are also state-level false claims acts across the country. False Claims Act lawsuits are among those the legal community refers to as "qui tam actions."

"Qui tam" is a shortened version of a Latin phrase that means "he who brings an action for the king as well as himself." False Claims Act whistleblowers bring lawsuits to benefit the government, although the whistleblower stands to gain, as well.

The False Claims Act provides a way to protect the government from fraud

The False Claims Act was originally enacted during the Civil War in 1863. It was passed in an effort to keep Union Army suppliers from defrauding the army. Under the original law, someone who knowingly submitted a false claim (bill) to the government was liable for twice the government's damages plus a substantial penalty.

Since then, the penalty has grown to triple the government's damages plus penalties of between more than $10,500 and more than $21,500 per fraudulent claim.

Although the government has its own systems in place to prevent fraud, it relies on whistleblowers filing False Claims Act qui tam lawsuits. Once a qui tam lawsuit is filed, the government may choose to intervene in the case, which can give the case a much greater chance of success.

False claims are common in a number of industries, although they can probably be found in any industry involving government contracts. Federal healthcare programs, the Department of Defense and the construction industry are areas where whistleblowers commonly identify fraudulent behavior.

Should I file a qui tam lawsuit on my own?

Going without an experienced qui tam lawyer is not recommended. Not only are these federal lawsuits with complex components and legal requirements, but there is the possibility that you could suffer retaliation after filing such a claim. An experienced attorney can fully evaluate what you have observed, make sure the right steps are taken to protect your right to a recovery, and work to protect you from illegal retaliation.

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