Understanding Your Rights in a Qui Tam Action

“Whistleblower” Actions under the False Claims Act

Do you know someone who’s been cheating on his taxes? A person who’s been wrongfully collecting Medicaid or Medicare or illegally obtaining other government benefits? If so, you may be able to file a form of whistleblower action known as a “qui tam” lawsuit, whereby you’ll be entitled to a portion of whatever the government recovers from the person committing the fraud. Here’s how it works.

Under the federal False Claims Act, enacted in 1863 (also known as the “Lincoln Law”), a citizen who successfully reports fraud on the government may be entitled to anywhere from 15% to 25% of any amounts recovered from the wrongdoer. The law allows the private citizen, known under the law as a “relator,” to essentially bring a lawsuit on behalf of the United States. There is no requirement under the False Claims Act that the relator have actually suffered any direct personal harm because of the actions of the person perpetrating the fraud. The relator must have information that proves that the wrongdoer intentionally or knowingly made false claims to the government. Furthermore, the information must not be in the public domain.

The law also provides for attorney’s fees for any successful lawsuit and prohibits a private citizen from bringing a qui tam action without an attorney. Once the qui tam action has been filed by the relator’s counsel, the federal government may opt to intervene and prosecute the lawsuit. The defendant, however, is prohibited by law from disclosing any information related to the qui tam action, including the mere fact that a qui tam action has been filed.

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