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Do I Need an Attorney to File a Qui Tam Lawsuit?

Do I Need an Attorney to File a Qui Tam Lawsuit

Do I Need an Attorney to File a Qui Tam LawsuitWhen an individual decides to file a lawsuit, they can choose whether they want to have an attorney represent them in the case. But, do I need an attorney to file a Qui Tam lawsuit? The answer is yes. You don’t have the choice to represent yourself with qui tam lawsuits. If you intend to file a qui tam lawsuit, you must do so with an attorney.

Filing a Lawsuit Pro Se

When an individual decides to start a lawsuit, they normally get to decide if they will hire an attorney or not. Most people will not take this route; they prefer the confidence that comes from having a seasoned attorney on their side. When a plaintiff does try a case without the help of an attorney, they are acting “pro se.”

There are several reasons why an individual may make this decision. One of the biggest reasons is to save money. In complex cases, such as qui tam actions brought under the False Claims Act, a client may feel what the attorney earns is more than they deserve. Given that, they choose to go it alone, without legal counsel.

Trying a case without the help of an attorney isn’t the smartest thing to do, but it’s theoretically possible and allowable – most of the time. One exception to this rule exists with qui tam lawsuits.

Do I Need an Attorney to File a Qui Tam Lawsuit? Yes, Only an Attorney May File a Qui Tam Lawsuit

A whistleblower who wishes to file a qui tam lawsuit must have an attorney represent them. This is because the qui tam lawsuit isn’t really the whistleblower’s case. It belongs to the US government. Therefore, it’s the government that should make the decision as to whether an attorney will bring a qui tam action.

Just like you’re able to choose if you want to hire an attorney or go pro se with your case, the US government has that choice as well. The only difference is that the US government realizes it’s not wise to try a qui tam lawsuit without an attorney’s help.

Why Should You Use an Attorney to File a Qui Tam Lawsuit?

Besides the fact that the law requires it, using an attorney to file a quit tam lawsuit – or any other lawsuit, for that matter – is simply a good idea. Many people who try a case pro se do so because they think they know what they’re doing. Unfortunately, they usually don’t. Let’s look at an example to illustrate.

Let’s say you want to sue your insurance company for refusing to pay a homeowner’s claim covered under your insurance policy. You’re confident you are correct, and the insurance company is wrong. You decide to file a lawsuit for breach of contract. Do you know how to do that? Maybe the person at the front desk at the clerk of courts is really helpful and tells you how to do it. Great! You’re all done with filing the complaint, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Did you file the complaint in the right court? “Of course,” you say, because you filed it in the county where your house is. But what if you could choose between two county courts? The county you live in is very conservative, or what most attorneys would consider “pro-defense.” But a neighboring county is what many attorneys would consider very “pro-plaintiff.” Do you still think you picked the right county courthouse to file your lawsuit? Just figuring out where to file your complaint is complex enough, even in an example that often trips up some attorneys.

And we haven’t even gotten to your complaint yet. Did you prepare it properly? Is your state a fact pleading or notice pleading jurisdiction? How and where do you intend to serve the complaint?

It’s easy to see how something that seems so simple is actually rather complex. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to serve a complaint on an insurance company in a simple lawsuit, how will you figure out how to serve the defendant in your qui tam action? If you don’t know, that’s good — that was a trick question! You actually don’t serve the complaint on the defendant in a qui tam action after it’s filed with the court. You could get into serious legal trouble if you served a qui tam complaint on the defendant while the case was still under seal (kept secret).

Bottom Line? Get an Attorney

If you don’t think you need an attorney to file a qui tam lawsuit, you’re wrong. Fair or not, that’s the law. So if you’re thinking about hiring a qui tam attorney, call 770.643.1606 to speak with Bothwell Law Group.

What Is the Qui Tam Lawsuit Process and How Long Does It Typically Take?

qui tam lawsuit process

qui tam lawsuit processThe qui tam lawsuit process is very involved and can take a long time to complete. However, it serves as an effective method of finding fraudulent activities and provides a primary way for the government to learn of fraud and prosecute the fraudsters to the full extent of the law.

What Is the Qui Tam Lawsuit Process?

The qui tam lawsuit process is the legal process by which a whistleblower can sue a defendant (usually a government contractor that receives government funding) and allege the defendant is defrauding the government. Normally, it would be the government that would bring this type of lawsuit, but because most fraud against the government is unknown, the whistleblower (called a “relator”) will bring the lawsuit on behalf of the government.

In return for taking on the lawsuit, the government will allow the whistleblower to have a percentage of the money recovered in a successful qui tam lawsuit. This percentage is typically between 15% and 30%.

The qui tam lawsuit process begins with getting an attorney, preferably one experienced in qui tam lawsuits. Qui tam lawsuits are complex and require unusual legal procedures, so finding a qui tam lawyer is important. When looking for a qui tam attorney, whistleblowers need to be very careful to find one qualified in handling qui tam cases, given what’s at stake.

After hiring the right attorney, the first step in the qui tam process is filing a complaint, just like a typical lawsuit. But unlike most lawsuits, qui tam lawsuits require filing in federal district court, not state court. Also, the complaint must be “under seal,” which means it remains secret. This means the defendant doesn’t know about the lawsuit, nor does the general public know a lawsuit is pending against the defendant. With normal lawsuits, the filing of a complaint is public, and the defendant knows about the lawsuit almost immediately.

In addition to filing a complaint, the whistleblower will also need to submit a disclosure statement. This statement sets out all the evidence the whistleblower has that supports the allegations that the defendant has defrauded the government. This disclosure statement is important because it provides a starting point for the government’s investigation into the alleged fraud.

Once the complaint is in the court system and the disclosure statement provided, the government will investigate the fraud allegations. This usually takes a few months to a few years. While this investigation is taking place, the lawsuit will not move forward.

After the government finishes its investigation, it will decide whether to intervene, or join the lawsuit. The decision to intervene is critical to the success of the qui tam lawsuit. Most qui tam lawsuits where the government doesn’t intervene aren’t successful, and it’s easy to see why. Having the full resources of the United States government means a much stronger legal action for a much longer amount of time.

Additionally, when the defendant sees that the government decided not to join the whistleblower in a lawsuit, it sends a strong signal that the whistleblower doesn’t have a solid case. This means it’s more likely the defendant will fight the qui tam lawsuit and less likely it will want to settle.

Once the government decides to intervene (or not), the court lifts the seal on the qui tam lawsuit and the case can proceed. The lawsuit is now public and the defendant is aware of it.

If the government has decided to intervene, it will often try to settle the case with the defendant. Most qui tam lawsuits end in settlement and do not go to trial.

How Long Does the Qui Tam Lawsuit Process Take?

Unfortunately, there is no sure answer to this question. There are many variables, such as the strength of the lawsuit, who the defendant is, whether it goes to trial (or settles), whether it’s appealed, how complex the fraud is and how long the government needs to investigate the fraud allegations.

After a complaint is under seal, the government has at least 60 days to conduct its investigation and decide whether it will intervene. However, most of the time, the government receives extensions and will take as much time as it needs to conduct its investigation. This can take anywhere from a few months to a few years.

Then assuming the government decides to intervene, the lawsuit can proceed. The government contacts the defendant and tries to negotiate a settlement. In the absence of a settlement, the lawsuit will proceed like a typical civil lawsuit. This means it can take years before trial and after the trial, it could be another few years while the case is on appeal.

So what’s the bottom line? A qui tam lawsuit can take anywhere from a few months to decades. However, most whistleblowers who start their qui tam lawsuits should expect it to take several years, at least.

Questions about the Qui Tam Lawsuit Process?

Learn more about the qui tam lawsuit process by contacting the Bothwell Law Group.

What Is the Qui Tam Procedure and Who Manages It?

Qui Tam Procedure

Qui Tam ProcedureThe qui tam procedure is quite different from a typical lawsuit. The steps involved are detailed and numerous, with several potential trip-ups scattered throughout. Here are the basics of what you need to know about the whole process:

Step 1: File the Civil Complaint.

A “relator” (aka- any normal human being) files a civil suit on behalf of the government. The suit is filed under seal for 60 days, meaning the defendant is not made aware of it at the time it’s filed. Because it is filed under seal, it is important you do not discuss the details of the case with anyone other than your lawyer. Doing so can violate the seal and cause the case to be rejected, or thrown out, based on the technicality.

Step 2: The Government Investigates.

Depending on the scope and magnitude of the allegations, the government can file an extension of the seal for as long it deems necessary. This can extend the process to well over a year.

During that time, the government reviews the information and proof you have gathered and also conducts its own investigation. Because this can include thousands of claims spread over numerous years, it’s easy to understand why this part can eat up so much time.

Step 3: The Government Intervenes. Or not.

Based on the strength of the case, the government may decide to intervene, or join your case. This means they are deciding to take over the action in its entirety. You and your counsel likely need to do nothing further.

However, if they decide not to intervene, you have the right to continue to pursue the action on behalf of the government. This is the gut check moment for you and your attorney because you no longer have the clout of Uncle Sam standing beside you. Further, if the court finds in the defendant’s favor, and believes you filed the suit as a means of harassment against them, you will be held liable not only for your own attorney fees, but theirs as well.

Step 4: The Court Rules.

After trial, the Court will provide its ruling in your case. In the event the Court finds in your favor, you may be entitled to up to 30% of the award. However, this amount can be reduced under any of the following conditions:

  • The government intervened and carried the case through to completion.
  • You were an integral part of planning and perpetrating the fraud in question.
  • You are convicted of criminal conduct as a result of your role in the fraud.

Roles and Responsibilities Between Relator and Attorney

The attorney you hire will represent you throughout the duration of your case. Typically, the attorney is paid from any proceeds arising from a recovery, allowing individuals with strong cases and few financial means to proceed with their case without hardship.

This agreement is referred to as a “contingent representation contract.” The law firm will agree to absorb any of the costs of the litigation and supplies legal knowledge, experience, and hours of service in return for costs covered by the final ruling and a portion of any recovery.

Additional Qui Tam Procedure Questions We Didn’t Cover?

You can learn more about qui tam procedure by contacting our team at Bothwell Law Group at 770.643.1606.