The False Claims Act rewards whistleblowers who shed light on wrongdoing. It empowers individuals to pursue lawsuits (called “qui tam” claims) against organizations or individuals who defraud the federal government in one of more than 30 states that have a “mini-qui tam” statute. If successful, the whistleblower receives monetary compensation as a reward – which can be significant.
However, these claims are often tricky to navigate. Here are some tips to consider.
- Get an attorney. The False Claims Act requires that whistleblowers filing suit be represented by an attorney because they are filed on behalf of the government to recoup Taxpayer funds. Very few attorneys handle such cases due to their complexity and the need for experience. Fewer lawyers still have ever actually litigated a False Claims Act case. Because qui tams often involve employment claims as well, it is essential to work with a law firm experienced in both employment litigation and False Claims Act litigation.
- Act quickly. The False Claims Act sets strict deadlines for filing lawsuits. Depending on the circumstances, different time limits may apply. Additionally, these claims are “first to file,” meaning your claim must be the first to recover any share of the recovery. And, because they are filed under seal, it is impossible to know whether the same claims have already been filed. You could lose out if someone else beats you to it.
- Weigh the risks. Although qui tam claims are initially filed under seal (allowing the whistleblower to remain anonymous), that seal eventually gets lifted in most cases, meaning your identity will generally be revealed. For some, qui tam claims thus involve some personal and professional risk; for others, being a whistleblower has enhanced their career. An attorney can help you evaluate the risks and benefits – including the strength of the case and potential ways to conceal your identity as a “Relator” in the case.
- Keep it quiet. Take care to safeguard sensitive information and evidence. Going public could jeopardize your case (not to mention your anonymity). Likewise, be careful about what you share on social media. Don’t discuss the case with anyone except your attorney. And, above all, do not break the “seal” by letting anyone know the case has been filed.
- Be patient. Qui tam claims often involve a lengthy investigation. Litigation can take years to resolve. Prepare yourself for the long haul, and don’t expect a quick payout. Remember, select an attorney experienced in navigating your case through the public/private partnership established by the “Lincoln Law,” as the False Claims Act is often called.
If you’re considering a qui tam claim or just have questions about what you have learned about your company’s conduct involving government funds, you’re already taking the courageous first step. Without whistleblowers, companies would have little incentive to abide by ethical and legal standards. It’s a big decision, however, and not one to take lightly without experienced advice and counsel.