The Background of Qui Tam
Citizens generally do not like to see their government defrauded. There are a number of reasons for this. Some may see their own personal tax dollars going to waste and want action to be taken. Others simply do not want to see any illegal acts occur without punishment. Others may be severely annoyed that the powers to be in the government are not taking the proper steps to stop instances of fraud. Now, while some may assume that there is nothing they can do when their government is being defrauded, the fact remains that there IS something that can be done. It is known as a “qui tam” action.
Qui Tam comes from the Latin phrase qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur which essentially means “one can sue in this matter for the king as addition for himself.” In other words, a private citizen has the legal standing to sue a person or entity that is defrauding the government. And, yes, the person suing does not have to be directly effected by the fraud. While some may see this as the actions of a third party, the fact remains that since the individual’s tax dollars fund the government entity being defrauded the litigant is not a third party.
The origins of Qui Tam law are found in British Common Law. Qui Tam later found its way to the United States via the colonies and eventually made its way into the False Claims Act of 1863. This is a very comprehensive law designed to dissuade and punish government fraud. It also provides incentives to private citizens as any citizen who files a suit on behalf of the government may receive a percentage of any settlement or judgment. Some may feel this leads to people “fishing” for lawsuits, but there can not be any lawsuit unless actual fraud occurs. That is, no matter what the motivation the individual may have to stop fraud as long as the fraud is stopped the actions will be worth it in the end.
What is most interesting about Qui Tam laws is the fact that a civilian can sue on the behalf of the government even if the government is hostile or disinterested towards a suit. This way, the government can never “overlook” fraudulent activities or make excuses for it. Instead, there will always be a mechanism to seek punitive action against those who commit fraudulent acts.