Whistleblowing and the False Claims Act

Wisconsin workers may be familiar with the term “whistleblower,” which refers to a person who blows the whistle on an employer who is engaged in illegal activity. One type of whistleblower action that an employee may bring against an employer is a qui tam action. Qui tam actions are lawsuits alleging that the government has suffered harm at the hands of an individual or a corporation that filed false claims. The False Claims Act, a federal law, incentivizes individuals to alert the government of such illegal conduct by offering individuals a percentage of any award that results from the lawsuit being successfully prosecuted.

The award in a qui tam case is determined by the amount of penalties that a guilty defendant is ordered to pay. Once a court establishes that the government suffered monetary damages as a result of a defendant’s conduct, the defendant will be ordered to pay three times that amount back to the government. The court in its discretion may also order the defendant to pay a penalty for each false claim, in the amount of anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000.

If an individual successfully prosecutes a qui tam action without government intervention, the individual will be awarded between 25 and 30 percent of the damages. If the government decides to take over the action itself, then the individual will receive between 15 and 25 percent of damages at the end of a successful case. If the court finds that the individual who brought the lawsuit was involved in the wrongdoing, the court may reduce that person’s recovery in its discretion.

Individuals can file qui tam charges without having their identities revealed to the public, since qui tam actions filed by private citizens are kept confidential. Wisconsin residents who suspect that someone they know has filed false claims with the government may want to consult with an attorney about whether to file a qui tam action.

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