Qui tam is a Latin phrase that translates to “in the name of the King.” It is a medieval concept in which citizens were granted the powers of the King to help enforce the law.
The first modern whistleblower law, the False Claims Act, incorporated qui tam as the heart of its anti-corruption powers. The federal False Claims Act empowers individuals and other entities to enforce laws that prohibit fraud in government contracting. It also provides them with a financial reward if their disclosures result in a successful enforcement action.
Why Did Congress Pass The False Claims Act?
The original False Claims Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on March 2, 1863, at the height of the U.S. Civil War. The drafters of the False Claims Act envisioned that informants would help the U.S. government police fraud in war contracting. During the Civil War, there were several contracting scandals in which the government was ripped off. The fraudsters did things like selling sawdust as gun power or selling contaminated foods for the Union army. The government wanted to enlist “insiders” to provide information to stop the frauds.
Under the original False Claims Act, claims were filed in federal court and the whistleblowers, known as “relators” in the statute, would obtain 50% of any sanctions collected by the federal government as a result of their suit.
Read Stephen Kohn’s testimony on qui tam rewards under the False Claims Act before the House Oversight Committee: “Restoring the Power of the Purse: Legislative Options”
Is Qui Tam Constitutional?
Congress has enacted numerous laws paying whistleblowers for their information. As explained in Stephen Kohn’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee, qui tam laws were prevalent at the time of ratification of the U.S. Constitution. First Congress of the United States passed numerous qui tam laws. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice found the qui tam and reward provisions of the False Claims Act constitutional.
How Are Qui Tam Laws Used Today?
Outside of the United States, most lawyers charge their clients fees. However, the United States has a different pay-model based on a contingency fee (see above). Thus, international whistleblowers who retain qui tam lawyers in the United States often do not have to pay any up-front attorney fees.
Whistleblower reward laws have proven to be the best tools for detecting fraud and corruption. The success of the False Claims Act triggered Congress’ enactment of several powerful qui tam whistleblower laws. These qui tam laws all protect whistleblowers from retaliation and permit whistleblowers to obtain large monetary rewards. The most important of these laws are:
In addition to these highly effective laws, Congress recently enacted an Auto Safety Whistleblower Reward law and is considering strengthening the wildlife/seafood/lumber-importation whistleblower reward laws. There is also a qui tam whistleblower reward law for seamen who report ocean pollution on the high seas.
The False Claims Act was amended and significantly strengthened in 1986, 2009 and 2010, and the IRS whistleblower reward law was likewise amended, expanded, and improved in 2018 and 2019.
Will The Government Pay The Rewards?
Yes, the United States government does pay. Since 1986 approximately $7 billion has been paid as rewards to whistleblowers. The False Claims Act, Dodd-Frank Act, Securities Exchange Act, IRS/Tax, Commodity Exchange Act, and Auto Safety Act all have provisions for the mandatory payment of whistleblower rewards to qualified whistleblowers. They also provide for judicial review if an agency fails to pay the required reward.
How Do I File A Qui Tam Lawsuit?
The qui tam lawyers of the law firm of Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto all have over 30 years of experience representing whistleblowers. If KKC agrees to represent you, one of our founding partners will manage your case. This hands-on approach by KKC partners makes it very difficult for the law firm to represent all of the whistleblowers who contact our firm. A founding partner does review every intake form received through the contact us form on our website.
Every law has its own rules and regulations governing the filing a qui tam lawsuit or a request for a reward. These procedures are very technical. Failure to file a timely claim following the specific procedures outlined in each law can result in an otherwise qualified whistleblower losing his or her right to a reward.
Any whistleblower who believes they may have original information covered under a reward law should carefully read the following Rules for Whistleblowers from The New Whistleblower’s Handbook, and seek professional legal advice.