Qui tam is short for a Latin phrase, “Qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur,” which translates as, “He who sues on behalf of the King, as well as for himself.” 

Qui tam started in England, where in certain instances, the people were empowered to sue on behalf of the crown and receive a bounty for the recovery. You can essentially do the same today with help from an experienced attorney. 

All qui tam statutes include two elements: (1) private prosecutors share in the penalty; and (2) private persons can initiate a suit to recover the penalty. In sum, it is a statute or regulation that permits a whistleblower to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the government for a share of the recovery.

Qui Tam Statutes: Early History

“Statutes providing for actions by a common informer, who himself had no interest whatever in the controversy other than that given by statute, have been in existence for hundreds of years in England, and in this country ever since the foundation of our government.” Marvin v. Trout, 199 U.S. 212, 225, 26 S.Ct. 31, 34, 50 L.Ed. 157 (1905).

Although qui tam statutes are somewhat rare today, the First Congress authorized qui tam suits in at least 10 of the first 14 statutes imposing penalties. Over the next 100 years, subsequent Congresses continued to support this approach to law enforcement, passing new qui tam legislation periodically. 

Much like sheriffs deputizing private citizens in the old west, these qui tam statutes remained an important element of peacekeeping until the twentieth century, when public agencies became more effective and the need for the qui tam statutes faded.

How do you pronounce “qui tam”?

Of course, “qui tam” may be a short form, but for only six letters it gets pronounced in all sorts of ways. The “correct” pronunciation is the Latin one – kwee tam – rather than the “kee-tam” we tend to use if we are accustomed to Spanish or French. As for that “a”, it’s the same sound as in “father.”

Although not technically a qui tam, certain financial fraud whistleblower programs act just like a qui tam. However, the report is filed with a federal agency, such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) whistleblower programs.

What is the history of the False Claims Act?

Most of our qui tam work is as False Claims Act lawyers. The False Claims Act permits whistleblowers, known as relators, to bring lawsuits alleging fraud that has been committed against the government. It is the most well-known qui tam statute in American jurisprudence and is generally considered to be the most effective law in combating fraud against the federal government, as well as preventing waste and abuse in government spending. 

President Abraham Lincoln signed the False Claims Act (FCA) into law during the height of the Civil War. At that time, distances between Washington, D.C. and the battlefields made communication difficult. The federal government would order supplies for the troops, but soldiers in the field would sometimes receive substandard goods. 

The distance made catching these war profiteers impossible, and so President Lincoln passed the FCA in an effort to prevent fraud against the government and in government contracting. It enabled people who knew about fraudulent goods being supplied to turn in the fraudsters and receive a share of the recovery as a reward for their time and trouble.

As one court noted when discussing the origins of the False Claims Act:

“The Civil False Claims Act was born in 1863 to a nation engulfed in a civil war. The War Department found itself at the hands of unscrupulous and corrupt government contractors. The abuses and damage done to the federal treasury and war effort was, for defense contractors, an opportunity for windfall profit. The contractors were fast becoming ‘proverbially and notoriously rich.’ For sugar it [the government] often got sand; for coffee, rye; for leather, something no better than brown paper; for sound horses and mules, spavined beasts and dying donkeys; and for serviceable muskets and pistols, the experimental failures of sanguine inventors, or the refuse of shops and foreign armories.”

U.S. ex rel. Newsham v. Lockheed Missiles & Space Co., 722 F. Supp. 607, 608 (N.D. Cal. 1989) (citing a Harper’s Monthly Magazine article from 1864).

At the urging of President Abraham Lincoln, Congress passed the False Claims Act to deter this defense contractor fraud. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as Lincoln’s Law.

Congress believed that the offer of a qui tam award would cause those involved in the fraud to turn on their co-conspirators, as it would “hold out to a confederate a strong temptation to betray his co-conspirator, and bring him to justice.” The statute was thus based “upon the old-fashioned idea of holding out a temptation, and ‘setting a rogue to catch a rogue.” Cong. Globe, 37th Cong., 3d Sess. 955–56 (1863) (remarks of Sen. Howard). 

The original penalties of the False Claims Act included paying double the amount of the government’s damages plus $2,000 for each false claim.

Thus, initially, the False Claims Act was primarily used against defense contractors. The statute became a hot topic again during World War II when war profiteers again began defrauding the military. However, Congress tinkered with the statute to the point of making it overly difficult to bring a successful claim. 

And so after an amendment in 1943 that weakened the False Claims Act, it sat unused and forgotten for more than forty years.

The Cold War Revives the False Claims Act

In the 1980s, the United States was embroiled in a cold war with Russia. Defense spending was out of control, and fraud made up a considerable percentage of those costs. So Congress again amended the False Claims Act, including increasing access and the recoveries, to a version substantially similar to that which exists today. 

Still, the majority of False Claims Act cases were brought by the government without a whistleblower. In 1987, the government brought 341 False Claims Act cases, and only 30 qui tam cases were filed by relators.

In the early 1990s, False Claims Act lawyers realized that this law could apply to healthcare fraud, and began bringing cases against providers defrauding Medicare, and later Medicaid. With this realization, the floodgates opened, resulting in thousands of new qui tam cases. For example, by 1997, qui tam relators filed 547 cases.

Since 1986, the Justice Department has recovered upwards of $60 billion from cases filed under the False Claims Act. In 2009, Congress further broadened the False Claims Act by passing the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act (FERA) amendments. This led to a second boom in qui tam filings, resulting in 600-800 new qui tam cases every year. 

Since then, the average annual recovery has exceeded $3.5 billion.

Get Expert Help with Your Qui Tam Filing

In 2015, the premier qui tam law firm of Bracker & Marcus LLC opened its doors, ensuring that whistleblowers throughout the country have access to the best possible representation for False Claims Act cases. 

Our Atlanta whistleblower attorneys are ready to speak with you during a confidential and complimentary consultation, so schedule yours today by calling 770-988-5035.