A whistleblower is a person who uncovers fraud against the government and brings suit on behalf of the government.
For example, if you work for a health care provider and you observe that employees are exaggerating claims of time spent attending to Medicare patients, you may have a potential whistleblower action because the government is being defrauded.
However, if the employees were exaggerating claims of time spent attending to privately insured patients, it would still be unethical but it would not be a whistleblower case because the government is not being defrauded in that scenario.
Another example of a whistleblower case would be where you work for a manufacturer that is knowingly providing defective equipment to the military.
Whistleblower cases, also called by the Latin derivative “qui tam” cases, are filed under the Federal False Claims Act (where the federal government is being defrauded) or, in Illinois, under the Whistleblower Reward and Protection Act (designed to protect the state government from being defrauded).
These laws allow the whistleblower to receive a portion of whatever penalty the wrongdoer eventually has to pay the government. This is typically about 15 to 25% under the Federal False Claims Act. Under the state statute, it can range anywhere from 10 to 30%.
These laws also contain provisions to protect the whistleblower in the event of retaliation by his or her employer. For example, if the employee is discharged, demoted, suspended, threatened or harassed for bringing the situation to light, the whistleblower can obtain relief under the statute.
Under the False Claims Act, you cannot bring an action under the statute without attorney representation. Qui Tam cases can be extremely complex and it is important to hire an attorney who handles these types of actions.
Under both the state and federal statutes, the government, not the defendant, is first served with the complaint and has the option to decide whether or not to take over pursuit of the case. If it chooses not to, the whistleblower may proceed on behalf of the government. An experienced qui tam attorney will be aware of such procedural nuances in these types of actions.
Unlike many attorneys that charge their clients based on an hourly rate, most qui tam attorneys work on a contingency basis. So, if you “win,” your attorney gets a percentage of the recovery. Otherwise, he does not recover anything. Also, while litigating the case, your attorney should pay all fees and costs associated with the litigation.