The U.S. Department of Justice reported qui tam settlements and judgments were more than $2 billion in 2022. This fascinating concept is an ancient legal mechanism with deep roots in the pursuit of justice.
It is a Latin phrase that essentially means subjects who bring lawsuits on behalf of the ruling party will reap benefits themselves. It has its origins in medieval England, dating back to the 13th century.
The concept of qui tam emerged during a time when the King’s interests intertwined with those of his subjects. Facing challenges in enforcing laws, especially in cases of fraud against the crown, the king permitted private individuals to step forward and bring legal action on behalf of the crown. This dual-purpose litigation allowed both the individual and the sovereign to seek remedies against wrongdoers.
Qui tam provisions empowered ordinary citizens to act as whistleblowers and champions of justice. The incentives were clear as anyone who successfully brought a qui tam action would get a share of the recovered damages or fines. This not only motivated individuals to come forward with information about wrongdoing but also eased the burden on the crown’s limited resources for enforcing the law.
Over the centuries, qui tam found its way across the Atlantic to the American colonies. The framers of the United States Constitution recognized its importance in combating fraud and corruption. The False Claims Act, aimed to address the rampant fraud against the government during the Civil War.
Provisions allowed citizens to sue individuals or companies that defrauded the government. It emphasized the principle that justice is a shared responsibility between the government and its citizens.
Qui tam remains an important tool in the federal legal arsenal against fraud and corruption. The historical evolution of qui tam reflects a timeless commitment to justice, where ordinary individuals stand up against wrongdoing and play a role in upholding the law.