Qui Tam

What the heck is Qui Tam?

It looks like it might be the name of an ancient Chinese warlord or a stylish new French hat. Actually Qui Tam (pronounced “kway taem”) is the legal name for “Whistle Blower” legislation, and is a provision of the Federal Civil False Claims Act that allows private citizens to file a lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. Government. The term is an abbreviation of a much longer Latin phrase.

The concept of Qui Tam legislation allows private citizens, if they believe a fraud has taken place, to act on behalf of the Government and file a lawsuit against contractors and others that may have received government money. The incentive for a person to undertake this lawsuit is that they can receive a share of the money recovered.

Where did this idea come from?

The idea of Qui Tam actions comes out of our early ties to Britain. Qui Tam was used in Britain in the 13th century as a way for private citizens to get the attention of the Royal Courts, and the notion was built into US laws back in 1776.

In 1863, Congress utilized the theory of Qui Tam when it initially enacted the Civil False Claims Act as a way to fight dishonest government contractors. (Often call "Lincoln's Law” or “The Informers Act”). Following the initial enactment of the law, a number of Qui Tam actions were brought against government contractors. However, in spite of the fact that the early legislation allowed a whistle blower to receive up to 50,000; of the money recovered, the provisions of the law (initially the person filing the action had to bear all the costs of the legal action) and some court interpretations made it difficult to enforce the legislation. This resulted in very few people taking advantage of the legislation.

The laws have been changed a number of times over the years - during WWII (again to make it easier to catch fraudulent government contractors) and again in 1986, based on a growing concern about procurement fraud. The changes to the law have made it easier for an individual to initiate an action and provide for government participation in the legal action. Thus, in modern day an individual doesn't have to bear the total cost of the suit.