When a whistleblower plaintiff sets out to pursue her claim, she should begin by discussing the facts with a whistleblower attorney. If the claim seems likely to be meritorious, the attorney will file a complaint setting forth the facts and how the facts meet required legal thresholds. These thresholds are found within the body of the False Claims Act text, the rules of civil procedure, as well as through various interpretations handed down from federal courts. If you are considering a whistleblower lawsuit, you may be curious about the more intricate nuances of the law, and the following explains some of the lesser-known requirements of the federal False Claims Act. Keep in mind, your state’s false claims act may include similar or entirely different provisions depending on the way it is drafted.
The “Knowledge” Requirement
The knowledge requirement is a pivotal issue in False Claims Act litigation. As a general principle, the FCA punishes those who submit false claims to the government for reimbursement. However, not every false claim is punishable and the FCA does not address accidental or negligent submissions. Alternatively, in order to prevail against the defendant in a whistleblower case, you must prove that the defendant had knowledge that it was submitting claims to the government that were false. In some cases, actual knowledge may not be required if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant deliberately ignored the truth or acted recklessly with regard to whether the claim was true or false. In other words, a defendant who purposely turns a blind eye as to whether claims are true or false without engaging in further inspection of the matter could face liability under the FCA. However, a defendant who accidentally, or under the guise of truth, submitted claims that turned out to be false will not face such liability – at least under the FCA.
Statutory Bars to Qui Tam Recovery
If you are successful in your case, you could recover up to 30 percent of the ultimate payout received from the defendant. As we have reported in the past, this can sometimes be a sizable amount. However, there are certain restrictions all whistleblowers must overcome in order to qualify as a qui tam plaintiff. First, if you were involved in the fraudulent activity and received a criminal conviction therefrom, you cannot later file a false claims lawsuit alleging the fraudulent activity. Second, if another plaintiff has already filed a qui tam action alleging identical conduct, you will not be able to file your claim, even if you did not know about the first action. Third, if the government is already a party to a lawsuit involving the same conduct, you cannot file a whistleblower lawsuit at the same time. Fourth, and most often litigated, you cannot file a whistleblower lawsuit based on public information. Public information is considered any information revealed in “criminal, civil, or administrative hearings in which the government is a party, government hearings, audits, reports, or investigations, or through the news media.” However, the law includes an exception to this rule if you are the original source of information leading to any of the above hearings or investigations. Under Title 10, Section 3730 of the United States Code, an “original source” is someone who has voluntarily disclosed to the Government the information contained in the allegations or has knowledge of the allegations independent of the publicly disclosed allegations that materially add to those public allegations.
As you consider whether to pursue a whistleblower cause of action, you may be fearful of all the legal jargon, loopholes, and requirements contained within the FCA and its interpretations. However, working with the right whistleblower attorney can make the experience as understandable and clear as possible. If you are aware of healthcare, defense contract, or other forms of fraud either by your employer, former employer, or through any other means, we encourage you to contact us right away.