What is Qui Tam?
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 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:
- The Dodd-Frank Act’s SEC Whistleblower law.
- The Dodd-Frank Act’s Commodity Futures Trading Commission Whistleblower Reward Law
- The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Whistleblower Reward Law
- The IRS Tax Whistleblower Reward Law
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.
- Rule 6: Get a Reward! False Claims Act/Qui Tam
- Rule 7: Get a Reward! Tax Cheats and the IRS Qui Tam
- Rule 8: Get a Reward! Securities and Commodities Fraud
- Rule 9: Get a Reward! Report Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
- Rule 10: Get a Reward! Make Sure Automobiles are Safe
- Rule 11: Get a Reward! Stop the Pollution of the Ocean
- Rule 12: Get a Reward! End Wildlife Trafficking
What are the limits of this FAQ? Is there a disclaimer concerning the information presented here?
Whistleblower laws are complex. There are several qui tam or reward laws that can result in a whistleblower obtaining a multi-million-dollar judgment. Each of these laws has specific filing requirements. Additionally, there are over 50 different federal anti-retaliation laws designed to protect whistleblowers from discrimination. Again, each of these laws has various lengths of statutes of limitation, filing procedures, and definition of a protected disclosure.
These FAQs give whistleblowers an overview of significant whistleblower qui tam, reward, or anti-retaliation laws. They are not comprehensive. If you believe you may have a whistleblower case, you should contact an attorney and obtain specific advice based on the facts of your case. You cannot rely only on the information in this FAQ to determine whether or not you have a valid claim.
A critical resource for those thinking of blowing the whistle is The New Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself (Lyons Press 2017). The Handbook contains a detailed discussion on all major whistleblower laws and has extensive citations to legal cases and statutes the protect whistleblowers. It is an invaluable resource.
Because of the complexity of the whistleblower laws, we disclaim all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this FAQ. The FAQ is a summary guide to understanding your rights. You should contact an attorney with expertise in whistleblowing before you make a disclosure. You must know your rights before you “blow the whistle,” so you can ensure that your conduct will be protected.
Can the whistleblower attorneys working at Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto help me?
The whistleblower law firm of Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto has a straightforward intake process. It is available here. Every intake is confidential, and the information provided protected under the attorney-client privilege. A senior partner at Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto reads each intake submission.
The intake process is free of charge.
Unfortunately, KKC receives many more requests for assistance then it can handle and must turn away many qualified whistleblowers. If KKC cannot represent you, you still may have a solid case.
If KKC believes you may have a case with which it can help you, you will receive a follow-up call or email to obtain more information and determine whether or not our firm can represent you. Until you have a signed written agreement with the firm, we are not your attorneys (although all of the information you provide to us is privileged and confidential). Almost all of our cases are on a contingency fee basis.