Do you have information that your employer is defrauding the government? If you do, you may be able to bring a lawsuit known as a qui tam action. A qui tam action lets the government recover money that it lost due to fraud. An individual who brings a qui tam action is also entitled to an award of a percentage of the money recovered by the government.
Any individual can file a qui tam action, alleging that a false claim has been submitted to the government. A false claim could be: overcharging the government, charging for services never provided, selling something and not delivering it, making false reports about the quality of a product, failing to properly test products, or any scheme intended to cheat, defraud, or steal from the government.
If a private individual initiates a qui tam case, the action is filed "under seal," which means that the contents of the complaint are kept confidential, and are not to be released to the public. A copy of the complaint is served on the United States Attorney for the district in which the defendant is located, as well as the Attorney General of the United States. The complaint remains under seal for at least sixty days, to give the government an opportunity to investigate the allegations and decide whether it wants to intervene in the action. If the government decides to intervene, it then takes over the action, and has the primary responsibility for prosecution. If the government declines to intervene, the individual who originally filed the complaint has the right to pursue the action without the involvement of the government, although the government may decide to intervene at a later date.
It is not necessary to show that the defendant intended to defraud the government. The defendant will be held liable if the court or jury finds that the false claim was submitted either with the knowledge that it was false, in deliberate ignorance of the truth or falsity of the claim, or with a reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the claim. It does not matter that the government did not suffer any actual monetary damage. The focus is solely on the defendant's conduct.
The monetary damages to be paid by a liable defendant in a qui tam case can be substantial. A defendant found liable will be required to pay three times the amount of damages suffered by the government. In addition, the court may impose a penalty of $5,000 to $10,000 per claim, and can also order punitive damages. The court will order the defendant to pay the costs, expenses, and attorney's fees incurred in bringing and prosecuting the lawsuit.
The False Claims Act includes an incentive to bringing a qui tam action. A person who brings the action is entitled to receive an award in an amount between fifteen and thirty percent of the recovery, with the exact amount being fixed by the court.
If the government joins in the suit, and the person who brings the action was not involved in the wrongdoing or fraud, the award will be between fifteen and twenty-five percent of the recovery. The exact amount depends on the extent to which the person bringing the suit was involved after the government intervened. If the government does not join in the suit, the award will be between twenty-five and thirty percent of the recovery.
If the person who brings the suit was involved in the wrongdoing, the court may reduce his or her recovery, depending on the circumstances of the person's wrongdoing. If the person is convicted in a criminal action of the wrongdoing, the court will deny him or her any award.
A qui tam action can vindicate important governmental, and public, interests, while offering an incentive to anyone who has knowledge of misconduct to help protect public funds and the integrity of government contracts. If you know or suspect that your employer has committed fraud in connection with a government contract or program, you should contact an experienced attorney to assist you in bringing a qui tam action.