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Florida Whistleblower FAQs

What is a “whistleblower”?

A whistleblower is a private citizen, often an “insider,” who has evidence that a person or organization is committing a fraud against the government. A whistleblower can file a lawsuit on behalf of the government, alleging the fraud and seeking recovery of the government’s damages. If a lawsuit is successful, the whistleblower may be eligible to share in a portion of the government’s financial recovery.


What does “qui tam” mean?

The phrase “qui tam” is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipson in hac parte sequitur, which means “the person who sues in this matter for the king as well as for himself.” Under ancient English law, qui tam allowed subjects of the crown to enforce the king’s legislative priorities, and to encourage such actions, the informers were financially rewarded for their participation.

Today, the phrase “qui tam” is often used interchangeably with “whistleblower,” and refers to a lawsuit brought pursuant to the federal False Claims Act or its equivalent under state law. In a modern qui tam lawsuit, a private citizen sues another party to enforce the rights of the government.


What is a “relator”?

“Relator” is the legal term used to refer to the private citizen, or whistleblower, who brings a False Claims Act lawsuit on behalf of the government.


What is the False Claims Act?

The False Claims Act is a federal law codified as 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733. The law provides that any person or organization who knowing submits a false claim to the government is liable for treble damages, in addition to a financial penalty for each instance of making a false claim. A False Claims Act lawsuit may be filed by the government, or by a whistleblower acting on the government’s behalf. To encourage private citizens to report false claims, the False Claims Act offers a percentage of the government’s recovery as a reward to the initial whistleblower.


What fraudulent actions can be the basis for a whistleblower lawsuit?

A whistleblower can initiate a lawsuit on behalf of the federal government for certain types of fraudulent activities, including:

  • Knowingly presenting, or causing to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval
  • Knowingly making, using, or causing to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim
  • Knowingly making, using, or causing to be made or used, a false record or statement material to an obligation to pay the government
  • Knowingly concealing, avoiding, or decreasing an obligation to pay the government
  • Conspiring to commit a false or fraudulent claim

The False Claims Act requires that the person or organization who made the false claim acted knowingly, meaning that there was actual knowledge, deliberate ignorance, or reckless disregard of the falsity.

In addition to the federal False Claims Act, some states, including Florida, have enacted legislation that allows whistleblower lawsuits to be brought on behalf of the state.


Can a whistleblower file a lawsuit on behalf of a state government?

While the False Claims Act originated under federal law, and most whistleblower lawsuits are filed in federal court, many states, including Florida, have enacted similar statutes to allow private citizens to bring a case alleging fraud against a state government.

The Florida False Claims Act is a state law codified as Section 68.081-68.092, Florida Statutes, and is very similar to the federal law.


Who can file a whistleblower lawsuit?

Any person with evidence about a fraud against the government can file a whistleblower lawsuit on behalf of the government. However, there are some circumstances in which a whistleblower claim might be dismissed, such as when the government has already filed a False Claims Act case or when the whistleblower has been convicted of a crime related to his or her role in the fraud.

The law governing whistleblower lawsuits is constantly evolving.


What protections are available for whistleblowers?

When a whistleblower lawsuit is first filed, it is filed under seal while the government investigates the allegations in the complaint. While the case remains under seal, the allegations and the whistleblower’s identity remain confidential. The defendant does not see a copy of the complaint until and unless the seal is lifted by a judge. Once the seal is lifted, all of the information contained in the complaint may become public record.

Many laws and regulations have been enacted to protect whistleblowers from being discriminated or retaliated against for their actions in blowing the whistle. A person who experiences discrimination or harassment for blowing the whistle may be entitled to compensation.

It is important that whistleblowers understand all of their rights and protections when making the decision to step forward.


What happens when a whistleblower lawsuit is filed?

When a whistleblower lawsuit is first filed, it is filed confidentially under seal. A copy of the complaint and a written disclosure of all information that provides the basis for the complaint is served on the government, which is required to investigate the allegations. During the government investigation, the case remains confidential and under seal; the defendant does not see a copy of the complaint until and unless the seal is lifted by a judge.

At the conclusion of the government’s investigation, the government must advise the court if it will intervene in the case or if it is declining to take over the action. If the government intervenes in the case, it will assume primary responsibility for prosecuting the case. If the government does not intervene, the whistleblower may choose to proceed in the action without the government’s assistance.


What does it mean for the government to intervene in a whistleblower lawsuit?

If the government intervenes in a whistleblower lawsuit, it will take over primary responsibility for litigating the case. The whistleblower remains a party in the case and maintains rights and responsibilities in the lawsuit.

The government can choose to settle or dismiss the case, so long as the whistleblower is given the opportunity to exercise his or her rights in a hearing before the court. A whistleblower may only seek to settle or dismiss a case with the government’s agreement.

If the government intervenes in a whistleblower lawsuit and recovers against the defendant, the whistleblower may be entitled to receive 15% to 20% of the government’s recovery, in addition to legal fees and costs paid by the defendant.


What happens if the government does not intervene in a whistleblower lawsuit?

If the government does not intervene in a whistleblower lawsuit, the whistleblower may choose to proceed with the case and assume primary responsibility for litigation the action. The government remains a party and maintains rights and responsibilities in the lawsuit. On a showing of good cause, the government may be permitted to intervene at a later date.

Even if the government does not intervene in a case, a whistleblower may only seek to settle or dismiss a case with the government’s agreement.

If the government does not intervene in a whistleblower lawsuit and the whistleblower recovers against the defendant on the government’s behalf, the whistleblower may be entitled to receive 25% to 30% of the government’s recovery, in addition to legal fees and costs paid by the defendant.


Does the whistleblower share in the government’s financial recovery?

The False Claims Act includes a provision that specifically entitles a whistleblower to receive a reward if the government recovers from the defendant in a whistleblower case. This recovery supports the public policy of encouraging people to blow the whistle when a fraud is being perpetrated against the government.

If the government intervenes in a whistleblower lawsuit and recovers against the defendant, the whistleblower may be entitled to receive 15% to 20% of the government’s recovery, in addition to legal fees and costs paid by the defendant.

If the government does not intervene in a whistleblower lawsuit and the whistleblower recovers against the defendant on the government’s behalf, the whistleblower may be entitled to receive 25% to 30% of the government’s recovery, in addition to legal fees and costs paid by the defendant.

Additionally, laws and regulations have been enacted to protect whistleblowers from being discriminated or retaliated against for their actions in blowing the whistle. A person who experiences discrimination, retaliation, or harassment for blowing the whistle may be entitled to compensation.


What does it cost to bring a whistleblower lawsuit?

At Freidin Brown, P.A. we handle all cases on a contingency fee basis, which means we do not charge legal fees unless we recover compensation for our clients.

Instead, we cover the cost of all expenses related to the case. Reimbursement for our services is taken from a portion of the whistleblower’s recovery in the case and is sometimes paid by the defendant when the law allows. If for some reason we don’t win the case, our clients will not owe us anything.


How does a whistleblower initiate a case?

Initiating a case under the federal False Claims Act or its state-based equivalents must be done in accordance with all applicable laws. If the laws are not followed, the claim may be dismissed or the whistleblower may not be protected from discrimination. Before a person raises a claim or undertakes an investigation of possible fraud, it is strongly recommended that all whistleblowers seek counsel from a qualified lawyer.

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