“Qui tam” is short for a Latin phrase that means “for the King.” In a qui tam lawsuit, a whistleblower brings a lawsuit for the benefit of the sovereign—the federal government or one or more states. The False Claims Act is a federal statute that allows whistleblowers to bring a qui tam lawsuit against the perpetrators of the fraud. If the case results in a settlement or verdict, the whistleblower is entitled to 15 to 30% of the amount the Government recovers. Since the Government is entitled to three times the amount of its damages, plus civil penalties, the whistleblower’s cut can be huge.
The False Claims Act is sometimes called the “Lincoln law” because it was signed into law by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War—a time of rampant fraud against the Union Army. The statute was strengthened by Congress in 1986. Most states also have false claims statutes; they are modeled after the federal version.