How do I file a whistleblower lawsuit?
If you are aware of a company cheating the federal government, you may be able to file a whistleblower lawsuit and earn a substantial financial reward. Here are the 7 steps to follow in bringing a successful whistleblower lawsuit:
- Confirm that there is an actual “false claim”
- Collect some evidence if possible
- Hire an experienced whistleblower attorney
- File a whistleblower complaint under seal
- Offer to help the government with the investigation
- Be patient with the process
- Collect the largest possible reward
In this video, Page Pate explains the process of filing a whistleblower lawsuit and earning a reward.
Over the past 20 years, our firm has represented a number of whistleblowers, who are able to report fraud against the federal government, and recover a substantial financial reward. When I talk about whistleblowers, I’m referring to people who file lawsuits under the False Claims Act. People who become aware of fraud by a company who is billing the federal government. Now, we see False Claims Act cases in many different types of industries. The biggest industry is probably the healthcare industry. We’ve seen many cases where doctors, hospitals, or other healthcare providers bill the federal government through Medicare or Medicaid for procedures that they never actually did or treatments that may not be medically necessary for the patient. That’s a potential False Claims Act case, and it’s one where a whistleblower can step up, report the fraud, and earn a reward.
But, the healthcare industry fraud is not just limited to doctors and hospitals. We’ve seen a lot of cases recently involving drug companies. Drug companies have a practice sometimes of giving kickbacks to physicians by giving them, you know, not just cash, but consideration for special benefits, lavish trips, dinners, speaker fees where they pay them basically to talk to their own office about the drug company’s products. Any of that can be the basis for a False Claims Act case because those prescriptions for that particular drug that may later be written by the doctor are all tainted and potentially fraudulent. We’ve also seen drug companies do what we call, “Off-Label Marketing.” They’ll take a drug that’s been approved by the FDA for one particular use, but then try to convince doctors to prescribe it for some other use that’s not been approved yet. That can also be the basis for a False Claims Act case, and we’ve seen whistleblowers earn substantial rewards in those cases.
But, it’s not just the healthcare industry. We see this type of fraud wherever you have a company that has a financial relationship with the federal government. Defense contractors, that’s another big area of potential fraud. The company may be billing the government for goods and services that they didn’t provide, or for goods and services that are not up to the contractual specifications. There are some cases where a False Claims Act complaint will be appropriate where there are federal grants or loans that are being backed by the government. We see it sometimes in the customs area, where importers will bring in merchandise and change the name of the merchandise, to avoid substantial customs duties or anti-dumping duties. In fact, we had one of those cases just last year, and our client earned a substantial multi-million dollar reward for reporting that company to the federal government.
So, that’s basically the type of whistleblower we’re talking about. Now, how you earn a whistleblower reward can vary depending upon the type of claim that you have, but I’ve learned that there are basically seven steps to a good successful whistleblower case. The first step is that you wanna confirm that there’s actually a false claim. We’ve had many people call us and say, “Look, I’m aware that this doctor or this hospital is billing Blue Cross or Blue Shield for procedures that they didn’t perform.” Well, that’s fraud, but it’s not the type of fraud where you can be a whistleblower and report it to the government and earn a reward. What you have to be looking for is fraud against the federal government. Medicare, Medicaid, any type of federal program, that’s where you see an actual False Claims Act, not against a private company, it has to be against the government.
The second step, if you are a whistleblower, is to try to collect some evidence, if possible. You may still be working for this company, and you may see invoices, or emails, or other documents that help prove the fraud that you’re talking about. Gather that information if you can. And, don’t be too aggressive about it. You don’t wanna go steal documents off your boss’s desk or copy computer information. There may be contractual reasons why you can’t do that, and there are certainly privacy laws that may come into play. But, if things come across your desk in the regular course of business, as part of your normal job responsibility, you may wanna hang onto that because it can be helpful for your lawyer, and ultimately, the government in trying to determine if there’s actually fraud.
Now, the third step is to hire an experienced attorney. Once you realize that you’ve got what you think may be an actual false claim, a company who’s defrauding the federal government, and you have some evidence to support that this is actual fraud, and not just some simple mistake, talk to a lawyer, call several lawyers. There are many firms that deal with whistleblowers, and so you’ll have a wide variety of lawyers to choose from. I would suggest that you look for a couple of things. One, you clearly wanna find a lawyer who’s done this before, who has a track record of success because that’s the type of lawyer that knows how to file the right complaint, that’s the type of lawyer that the government has respect for and will deal with, and that type of lawyer will help you ultimately earn a substantial reward. But, the question sometimes becomes, do I wanna deal with a big firm or do I wanna deal with a smaller firm? In our experience, a smaller firm can be much more effective in these cases because of the speed in which we can operate. You know, a big firm may have many cases, they may not be able to get around your case in time, they may have so many lawyers involved in the project that it goes from one lawyer to another lawyer to another lawyer. All that takes time. And in a whistleblower case, you have to act fast because it’s that first person to file who usually gets the reward.
Now, the fourth step is to file that complaint under seal. So, after there’s been some investigation, you’ve gone to your lawyer, the lawyer’s gonna prepare a detailed complaint alleging specific examples of this fraud before it’s filed in court. The lawyer will also meet with the government to disclose the information before they make this filing. The complaint is very important because it kinda sets the roadmap for the case going forward. And, when I say it’s filed under seal, that basically means that it’s secret. You can’t talk about it, not with your friends, family, and certainly, not at work. It’s under seal, it’s secret to give the government time to investigate the case. It’s gonna be at least 60 days where no one can talk about it, but most of the time, that period is extended for many months, sometimes, many years, while the government investigates the case.
Now, the fifth step is to offer to help the government. While the case remains secret, under seal, the government’s gonna be investigating this company. They’re gonna be trying to interview witnesses, gather documents, whatever they can do to try to prove that there is actually fraud going on. So, if you’re aware of something, you may know who the individuals are, who are involved, you may be able to explain the significance of certain documents, you and your lawyer will reach out to the government, and offer to cooperate whenever you can. Now, you won’t control the investigation, the government will do that, but they may very well need your help, so your lawyer should be frequently in touch with the government, talking about potential interviews, meetings, whatever you and your lawyer can do to help the process alone.
Now, sixth, be patient with this process because it’s gonna take a long time. The bigger the case, usually, the longer it takes. Because, there’s a lot to investigate, lot of documents, especially if you have more than one company, or more than one individual involved, the government’s gonna take its time investigating it. But, that’s usually good because the more time they spend preparing the case, the bigger the settlement, and the larger the financial reward.
And, of course, finally, that’s what you want to do at the end of the day, collect the biggest reward possible. And, a good lawyer can help you do this. Because, the law basically says that you’re entitled to 15 to 30% of whatever the government recovers from the company, but that percentage can vary, and it really depends upon negotiations between your lawyer and the government, and how you handle the case. Did the government intervene, did they take it over and settle it, or did you and your lawyer have to take it into court, and litigate it on your own? That’s a flexible percentage, and a good lawyer will help you get the highest percentage, and earn the biggest reward.
So, those are the seven steps that we found effective in handling a whistleblower claim. If you are in a position where you think you may have evidence that a company is cheating the federal government, healthcare industry, defense industry, any type of industry, give us a call to discuss it. The call is completely free, no charge to you, and it’s also completely confidential. Your employer is not gonna know about it. So, if you think you have this kind if evidence, let’s see if you have a whistleblower claim. Because remember, the reward is great, and that’s certainly one of the benefits of doing this, perhaps the biggest benefit. But, you’re also helping the taxpayers because we’re talking about companies that are cheating the federal government, and if you know about that, you should report it, and if you report it, and go through the process, you’re likely to earn a substantial reward. So, give us a call if we can help.
1. Confirm that there is an actual “false claim”
Before pursuing a whistleblower lawsuit, you should try to verify that the federal government is actually being defrauded. A whistleblower can only recover a reward under the False Claims Act if he or she can point to a specific “false claim” made against the federal government. A “false claim” occurs when someone cheats the federal government out of money, either by submitting fraudulent invoices for payment or by not paying the government money that they owe. Many states also provide whistleblower rewards for people who report fraud against a state agency. But a case involving billing fraud against a insurance company or some other private business, while it may be a crime, is not a “false claim” that will entitle you to a whistleblower award.
2. Collect some evidence if possible
It is always helpful when filing a whistleblower lawsuit if you have personal knowledge of the fraud and have some type of evidence to support your claim. If you know of documents or other evidence that would show how the federal government is being cheated, you should try to collect those and give them to your attorney. But be careful. You are not an agent of the government and you do not want to put yourself in a position where you are at risk. You also do not want to break any laws or any contract you may have with your employer. The best way to collect evidence to prove the fraud is to let an experienced attorney advise you.
Generally, the more evidence you have to prove the fraud, the better your claim will be. Your lawyer will likely use whatever evidence you have to prepare a draft of the lawsuit before meeting with the government to discuss the case. The meeting between your lawyer and the government is called a “disclosure meeting” and is the first step in getting the government interested in pursuing the case and giving you a whistleblower award.
3. Hire an experienced whistleblower attorney
If you have information that a company is cheating the government, and you think you may be interested in pursuing a whistleblower lawsuit, it’s smart to go ahead and contact an attorney with experience in whistleblower lawsuits and the False Claims Act. An experienced attorney will be able to tell you whether you would have the type of information that would qualify you as a whistleblower under the law. A good attorney will also be able to give you an idea of how much money you may be able to recover for reporting the fraud. More importantly, an experienced whistleblower attorney will help you prepare and file a persuasive lawsuit and arrange for the government to review it.
Don’t let a concern about legal fees and costs keep you from contacting a lawyer immediately. If you hire our firm, you will not be asked to pay any costs up front. We will cover all the costs and expenses and only receive a fee if you are later given a monetary award by the government at the end of the case. Our fee will be based on a percentage of your award. If the lawsuit is unsuccessful, then you do not owe us anything for our time or the expenses we have incurred in helping you pursue the claim.
4. File a whistleblower lawsuit under seal
After we meet with the government to discuss the case and get their input, we file a qui tam lawsuit in the appropriate federal district court. The complaint in a qui tam lawsuit is filed under seal, meaning that the company committing the fraud will not be alerted to the lawsuit directly and the government will be served with the complaint instead. The False Claims Act provides the government with a sixty-day period to conduct its investigation before serving the complaint on the defendant. This period can be lengthened, and often is, by requesting extensions from the court. In most cases, the investigation will take anywhere from a few months to a few years.
During its investigation, the government will gather and analyze evidence and may conduct interviews with employees of the corporate defendant. Though the company will not have been served and the case will remain under seal, it may become aware that an investigation is being conducted. During the investigation, neither you nor your attorney will be able to discuss the case with anyone but the government. Improper communications could harm the government’s investigation and result in the case being dismissed.
5. Offer to help the government with the investigation
After the complaint is filed, the government will hopefully investigate the case and ultimately decide whether or not to accept it (or “intervene”). This is a crucial step in a whistleblower lawsuit. The chances of recovery are usually improved if the government decides to intervene and directly go after the company who committed the fraud.
Your attorney has an important role in this process. In addition to making sure the lawsuit is rock-solid and supported by credible evidence, a whistleblower lawyer should maintain close contact with the government attorneys working on the case to offer advice and assistance during the investigation. While the government runs the show, a good whistleblower lawyer knows how to stay involved without stepping on anyone’s toes. We think our firm navigates this process exceptionally well and has earned the trust and respect of the government attorneys and agents who investigate whistleblower complaints. And it’s clear that our relationship with the government benefits our clients when it comes time to decide on the amount of a whistleblower award.
Of course, a whistleblower may be able to continue to pursue the case even if the government decides not to intervene. The decision on whether to move forward without the government’s involvement is a decision that can only be made by an experienced whistleblower attorney after a hard look at all the evidence in the case. In some cases, the whistleblower attorney may move the case forward and the government will later decide to step in and help.
When and if the government decides to intervene affects the amount of any whistleblower award. As a general rule, the more work you and your attorney do, the more money you will make if the case is successfully resolved.
6. Be patient with the process
A whistleblower lawsuit can take a long time to complete. It is not uncommon for a case to be pending “under seal” for several years while the government investigates the case. If the case is not settled at the time the government decides to intervene, then the case will move into the litigation process. That process can also take a year or more to reach a settlement or trial. In our experience, the average whistleblower case takes about three or four years to resolve. Of course, some cases are resolved much faster, and some take a little longer.
We understand that the time it takes to resolve a whistleblower lawsuit can be very frustrating, especially for the whistleblower. The whistleblower has to keep everything secret and not discuss the case with anyone other than the lawyers while the case is under seal. The whistleblower may also be facing difficulties at work or financial problems if not employed.
Unfortunately, because the government is running the investigation while the complaint remains sealed, there is very little the whistleblower and his or her attorney can do to speed up the process. Be prepared for numerous delays, extensions and pushed-back deadlines. They are all common in whistleblower litigation.
7. Collect the largest possible reward
Hopefully, your patience and your attorney’s diligence will pay off. If a whistleblower lawsuit is settled or won at trial, the whistleblower is entitled to a share of the money the government is able to recover.
The money the government recovers in these cases can be very significant. The law provides that a company who has cheated the government can be held responsible for three times the amount of money they took or failed to pay, plus hefty fines. At the end of the day, the government may end up collecting millions of dollars. In some cases, the recovery can exceed a billion dollars.
In cases where the government has intervened, the whistleblower will be entitled to 15-25% of the amount recovered. The exact share will be negotiated between the whistleblower attorney and the government. A number of factors, such as the value of the whistleblower’s unique contribution to the overall case, will be taken into consideration. If no amount can be agreed on, the court will determine the appropriate share. In successful cases where the government does not intervene, the whistleblower will generally recover 25-30% of the actual damages awarded.
If you think you may have information relating to fraud against the federal government, contact our firm to see if you have a good whistleblower case.
Page Pate is personally available to answer any questions you may have about the federal whistleblower laws or the process of filing a whistleblower complaint. Page will also give you his honest assessment of your case and tell you how he thinks you should proceed. There is never any cost or obligation for this initial consultation, and it is completely confidential and protected by law.
A recent review from one of our whistleblower clients on avvo.com:
$15M Settlement! Page is an amazing, brilliant and exceptionally talented attorney. He represented me in a Whistleblower False Claims Act case which resulted in a $15M settlement with Z Gallerie, a major US furniture retailer who evaded paying anti-dumping duties to US Customs and Border Protection for many years. My award was a life changing $2.4 Million. Page has long standing, established relationships with the Department of Justice and knows exactly how to navigate the complexities of pursuing such a case with the government. The detailed and precise complaint he prepared and submitted to the US Department of Justice is one for the record books, truly amazing. The Government immediately took up the case with much enthusiasm. Page was engaged with the US Attorneys throughout the entire process. Words alone can not express the gratitude I have for Page Pate!"
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