Qui Tam is a truncated version of the Latin phrase “Qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso,” which translates to English as, “Who sues on behalf of the King, as well as for himself.” Historically, Qui Tam provisions have allowed citizens to act as “private attorneys general” by bringing civil actions against those who violate the law.
Qui Tam provisions, which allow citizens to enforce the law against those who violate it, first came into being in medieval England, during a time when no organized police force existed to enforce laws. English common law adopted various Qui Tam provisions in an attempt to provide for the enforcement of the law by those who suffered injury as a result of violations of the law. In effect, Qui Tam provisions allowed, and in fact encouraged private parties to act as policemen. The government paid a reward or bounty to the private party to make the effort worthwhile, and to give incentives to other individuals to bring similar suits.
Qui Tam provisions followed the settlers of the various American colonies. After obtaining their independence, the founders of the United States followed the English common law and included Qui Tam provisions in many statutes. Of the twelve penal statutes that the Continental Congress enacted, ten contained Qui Tam provisions.
President Abraham Lincoln urged Congress to pass the False Claims Act (FCA) in 1863. Lincoln cited the numerous fraudulent suppliers who sold the Union Army faulty war supplies during the Civil War, including broken rifles, rancid food, useless ammunition and lame horses and mules. The 1863 FCA provided both criminal and civil penalties, contained a Qui Tam provision, and permitted a whistleblower to collect up to 50% of the damages.
The Whistleblower in Today’s World
In 1986, Congress again focused its attention on the FCA as a way to combat rampant fraud against the government. With bipartisan support and President Reagan’s blessing, Congress extensively passed the False Claims Reform Act to increase the reach of the existing law and to reestablish the Qui Tam whistleblower as an effective anti-fraud tool.
Since the 1986 Amendments, Qui Tam whistleblower suits have proved successful beyond even Congress’ expectations. As awareness of the Qui Tam provisions spreads, more and more whistleblowers are coming forward. By 2000, fourteen years after the 1986 Amendments, the FCA, and especially its Qui Tam provisions, has become the single most successful tool in the government’s fight against fraud and abuse. Whistleblowers pursued more than 3,000 successful Qui Tam claims, and courts had awarded over $3 billion dollars in damages.
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