Crime and unethical practices can happen anywhere, but it is especially unsettling if it’s being done by the company you work for. All of a sudden, you find yourself in a terrible position. You know they’re doing something wrong, but what happens to you if you say something?
Federal and state whistleblower laws can protect you in such situations. This blog post will help you understand what a whistleblower is and how you can file a whistleblower lawsuit.
Why Whistleblowers Matter
Whistleblower laws date back to the Middle Ages and were created to protect the King’s resources.
During the Civil War, the U.S. government passed the False Claims Act to fight fraud from military suppliers. Today, when a citizen knows that someone is defrauding the federal government – such as when a hospital submits false bills for Medicare reimbursement – they can bring something called a qui tam action on behalf of the government. The law includes protections for the person, called a relator, who brings the qui tam action and it offers a reward for the person’s efforts, typically between 15% and 25% of the amount recovered.
When a company is found to have violated the False Claims Act, it is liable for up to three times the amount of damages plus any damages from civil lawsuits. That means a hospital that commits medical fraud can end up paying a penalty for every false invoice it sent.
Why is the law so tough? When someone steals from the government, they are stealing from American taxpayers and undermining government programs. They could be harming innocent people, too. Here are two recent cases that whistleblowers brought to justice:
In 2016, two South Dakota surgeons filed a whistleblower complaint against Sanford Health because a doctor in Sanford’s hospital system had been taking kickbacks from a medical device company. The doctor used the devices to perform unnecessary spinal surgeries on Medicare and Medicaid patients, leaving one person paralyzed. Sanford Health settled the case for $20.2 million in 2019.
Toyobo is a company that makes Zylon fiber, which was used in bulletproof vests for various levels of law enforcement. A study found that half the vests made with Zylon did not stop bullets, putting the lives of law officers at risk. Toyobo settled with the government for more than $132 million.
Does My Case Qualify for Whistleblower Protection?
The False Claims Act applies to defrauding the government, but other laws are in place to protect whistleblowers who report fraud or other violations of law by private companies. For example, whistleblowers are protected when they report violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Whistleblower claims must meet specific criteria to move forward. In Ohio, for example, to obtain whistleblower protection against an employer’s possible retaliation the claim must involve the reporting of a state or federal law violation. The employee has to reasonably believe that the violation presents a risk of physical harm or a risk to public safety or that the violation is a felony. Finally, the employee must notify a supervisor at the company in writing and provide enough detail to explain the violation.
Types of Whistleblower Lawsuits
Most whistleblower cases involve fraudulent claims, records, or invoices, or it involves conspiracy (hiring a third party to file a false claim). Fraud can happen in any part of the government:
- Health Care—Hospitals, doctors, or nursing homes fraudulently billing Medicare and Medicaid for services they didn’t perform, overcharging for services, or running unnecessary tests.
- Tax Fraud—A business, organization, or individual who earns over $200,000 a year taking illegal steps to avoid paying taxes.
- Government Contract Fraud—A company breaking the law to get a high-paying government contract, offering or receiving illegal kickbacks, or overcharging for products or services.
- Securities Fraud—A person or business violating securities laws through insider trading, manipulating share prices, running a pyramid scheme, or creating false or misleading reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
- Financial and Mortgage Fraud—Banks and other lenders providing false information about a property, a buyer, appraisal values, and other illegal activities.
Disaster Relief Fraud—Someone making a false claim after a tornado, hurricane, terrorist attack, or other disasters to get money from a government relief program.
How To Pursue Legal Action as a Whistleblower
Every taxpayer is hurt when there is fraud against the federal government. If you have witnessed suspicious activity at your workplace, make an appointment with us for a free consultation. Our experienced attorneys will make sure you understand how the law protects you and what the process looks like from start to finish.
At Cooper Elliott, we’ve handled multiple whistleblower cases over the years, and we know what it takes to get results.
The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.