If you’ve discovered that your employer or another business defrauded or stole from the New Jersey or federal government, you need to take immediate action. Each of these jurisdictions has enacted a False Claims Act that allows employees to assert a Qui tam (pronounced kwī tam) claim on the government’s behalf.
In a Qui tam lawsuit, an employee or anyone else can file a civil lawsuit against a business for defrauding the government. If the lawsuit succeeds, the employee or other person may receive a percentage of the government’s recovery.
The False Claims Act
The False Claims Act is a federal law that makes it illegal for a person to, among other things:
- Knowingly present a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval;
- Knowingly make or use a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim; or
- Conspire to commit any of the other acts prohibited by the False Claims Act.
The False Claims Act imposes severe consequences on those who violate it. First, violators are subject to a civil penalty of up to more than $22,000. In addition, the violator will have to pay the government three times the damages caused by the violation.
New Jerse has enacted their own state statutes based on (and named after) the federal False Claims Act. These versions vary in the specifics, but all contain a Qui tam provision. That provision authorizes whistleblowers to file a Qui tam case against anyone who violates the relevant False Claims Act.
What is a Qui Tam Lawsuit?
In a Qui tam lawsuit, a private person (called the Qui tam relator or just relator) sues on behalf of the government for violations of the False Claims Act by another person. After filing a Qui tam lawsuit, the relator must notify the government that he or she has done so. At that point, the government can investigate and decide whether it wants to take over the case.
Regardless of the government’s decision, however, the relator stands to benefit from bringing the case. For one thing, he or she can be proud of having helped the government put a stop to illegal conduct.
But in addition, a relator is entitled to receive a percentage of the amounts recovered by the government as the result of a successful Qui tam lawsuit. The precise percentage varies but can be as high as 30%. Also, the defendant will have to reimburse the relator for his or her reasonable expenses, court costs, and attorneys’ fees.
What About Retaliation?
Many employees are reluctant to file a lawsuit or otherwise act as a whistleblower, believing that their employer may retaliate against them for doing so. Fortunately, the federal and New Jersey False Claims Acts all prohibit any such retaliation. For example, under federal law, an employer that retaliates against a whistleblower employee is liable for:
- Reinstatement with the same seniority status for the employee;
- Two times the amount of back pay, plus interest on the back pay; and
- Any special damages caused by the retaliation, including litigation costs and attorneys’ fees.
(In New Jersey, whistleblowing employees are also protected against retaliation by the Conscientious Employee Protection Act.)
Common Qui Tam Cases
Whistleblowers can bring Qui tam cases in the context of a wide range of government programs and activities. Some of the most common Qui tam cases involve:
- Medicare or Medicaid fraud, including fraudulent billing by a doctor, hospital, or other health-care professional or organization;
- Fraud in federal or state contracts, such as defense or construction contracts; and
- False certifications made to the federal government.
New Jersey Qui Tam Lawyer
If you have evidence of a False Claims Act violation, you should contact an attorney at Zatuchni & Associates to evaluate the merits of your Qui tam case. Qui tam procedures are complicated, requiring service of your complaint and other material information in your possession on the Justice Department. Failure to follow those procedures could cause you to lose your rights as a Qui tam relator.
Many of our clients come to us with little to no knowledge of the False Claims Act or other whistleblower laws. We take seriously our job to educate them on the False Claims Act, including the benefits of filing a Qui tam lawsuit and the law’s protections against retaliation by an employer. Contact our office today for help understanding your rights and determining the appropriate next steps.