What to Expect When You Bring a Whistleblower Claim: The Legal Process
Whistleblowers are crucial in uncovering and stopping various kinds of fraud and with the help of a skilled whistleblower law firm they can potentially receive a whistleblower award for their work. Whistleblowers who come forward with information about fraud upon government programs can help the government recover significant amounts of money while also potentially earning substantial financial rewards under statutes such as the False Claims Act. However, bringing a whistleblower claim can be a complex and difficult process, which is why you should involve a whistleblower law firm early on to maximize your chances of success.
In this article, we will provide an overview of the legal process and what to expect in certain types of whistleblower cases. We’ll go over how to file a complaint under various different whistleblower programs, the role of a whistleblower lawyer or attorney, and the potential rewards for reporting fraud. We will also highlight some key statutes and regulations governing the whistleblower process, and we’ll share insights and tips from our experienced attorneys.
The Whistleblower Process: A Brief Overview
There are multiple steps in the whistleblower process. All must be completed to file a complaint that prompts a thorough investigation by the government and positions the whistleblower to be eligible for monetary compensation. The following are the basic steps in the procedure:
Consulting and Retaining a Whistleblower Lawyer
As soon as you have solid suspicions of large-scale, systemic fraud upon a government program, you should consult with an experienced whistleblower lawyer. A knowledgeable whistleblower lawyer can assist you in determining the strength of your potential case, help you understand what evidence is needed, determine the appropriate whistleblower program for your complaint, and ensure that your rights as a whistleblower are protected.
Once you retain a competent whistleblower attorney, you’ll need to gather as much information about the fraudulent activity as possible. You should coordinate with your lawyer about what steps to take and how to take them to avoid being sued for things like misappropriation or HIPAA violations.
Filing a Complaint
After you’ve properly collected evidence, your attorney will draft and submit a whistleblower complaint on your behalf. Depending on the nature of the fraud you want to report, your complaint will be filed with a government agency, or in federal or state court. In many instances you’ll also need to meet one or more times with government investigators and attorneys – but in all cases, once the complaint is filed it’s up to the government to investigate.
After your complaint is filed, the appropriate government agency – the federal IRS, SEC, DOJ, and/or their state counterparts – will begin an investigation into the allegations. Once the government begins to investigate, you should not also investigate on your own.
Settlement or Litigation
If the government’s investigation corroborates your allegations of fraud, the government may pursue a settlement – or, if the fraudsters refuse to settle, the government may pursue administrative enforcement or, in some instances, conduct discovery and work towards a trial. There are other circumstances in which the government may leave it up to you and your attorney to pursue the case – we’ll explain that below.
If your case is settled or results in a judgment, the government will typically try to recover the funds lost to the fraud, often with a multiplier as the statute permits. If your attorney has taken the necessary steps to position you for a whistleblower award, you may receive a percentage of the funds recovered.
Now that we have provided an overview of the whistleblower process, let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.
Consulting and Retaining a Whistleblower Lawyer
It is critical to consult with an experienced whistleblower lawyer as soon as you have solid suspicions – or, even better, solid evidence – of fraud upon a government program. Most whistleblower attorneys will provide an initial consultation without charge. You should ask questions and make sure you understand everything that the attorney says. It’s especially important to establish the attorney’s experience with whistleblower law. Time is of the essence in many whistleblower programs, so if the consultation goes well you should consider retaining the attorney as soon as you can. Most whistleblower attorneys will take cases on contingency, meaning you pay nothing up front.
Once you’ve retained an experienced whistleblower attorney, they can guide you in gathering pertinent information about the fraudulent activity that you are reporting on. We strongly recommend that you NOT gather evidence yourself without first retaining a whistleblower law firm or you could wind up in big trouble. Your whistleblower attorney will make sure you understand that you should only collect documents that you would ordinarily have access to.
Any relevant contracts or agreements that may have been violated might be key documents to look for. Other cases will require different evidence. In a healthcare fraud case, for example, you may need examples of patient charts that show “upcoding” (charging for more expensive care than was provided). And now your antennae should have gone up – wouldn’t that violate the HIPAA privacy law? Actually, HIPAA allows a whistleblower to provide protected health information to their attorney or to the authorities when the purpose of doing so is to further an investigation of fraud or a crime. But to take advantage of that protection, it’s critical that you gather information the right way – and an experienced whistleblower attorney will guide you in doing so.
Internal documents or communications such as emails, memos, presentations, and financial records, may also reveal the fraudulent activity. If you are unsure of where to start, an experienced whistleblower lawyer can provide guidance.
You should also be very careful about who you speak with about your plans. In most whistleblower programs only the first person to file a complaint on a given set of facts can ever be eligible for a whistleblower award. You don’t want to inadvertently plant the idea in a colleague’s mind that they should beat you to the punch and file their own complaint. It’s therefore wise to consult with your attorney before speaking with anyone else.
Filing Your Whistleblower Complaint
Your lawyer will draft your whistleblower complaint using the information you provide, along with their knowledge of the relevant law. Drafting a complaint is a back-and-forth process, and your lawyer should consult with you along the way to make sure the facts are presented correctly. You should be asked to give your final sign-off before the complaint is filed.
Different whistleblower programs require different kinds of complaints. For example, if you are reporting Medicare or Medicaid fraud or government-contracting fraud, you’ll need to file a qui tam lawsuit under the federal False Claims Act and/or the appropriate analogous state statute. This is a complex process that requires a thorough understanding of the legal requirements and procedures involved.
On the other hand, if you’re reporting securities fraud, tax fraud, money-laundering, or fraud that impacts the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a different kind of complaint will be filed, not in court but directly with the appropriate agency. But in every case, it’s important to follow the correct procedures and deadlines when filing your complaint. Your whistleblower lawyer will ensure that you comply with all legal requirements and that your complaint is filed in a timely and appropriate manner.
Many whistleblower programs allow for anonymous filing with the use of a whistleblower attorney; however, you may not be able to remain anonymous from start to finish. There are too many considerations and variables to detail here, but suffice it to say you should consult with your attorney.
Investigation and Litigation
Once your complaint has been filed, the agency or agencies involved will investigate your allegations. This process can take several months or even years, depending on the complexity of the case.
The government may want to interview you at the start of the investigation, and your whistleblower lawyer will prepare you and accompany you. You may also be asked for additional information – or you may even be asked to “wear a wire” or record telephone calls. Don’t be scared; an experienced whistleblower lawyer will guide you through this process and make sure your rights are protected.
If the investigation corroborates your allegations, the government may attempt to settle with the fraudsters. In other circumstances the government may leave it up to you and your attorney to pursue settlement – or to take the matter to trial, if that’s appropriate. Your attorney should advise you of the options and possibilities along the way.
Recovery and Protection
If your whistleblower case is successful, you may be entitled to a portion of the monetary damages that the government recovers as a whistleblower reward. Your share, if any, will be determined by a variety of factors, including the extent of your cooperation and the amount of the government’s recovery.
But whether your case recovers money for the government or not, it’s illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for blowing the whistle. If they do, you have a separate legal claim against them for your own damages. Your whistleblower attorney will help you protect your rights.
The legal process of a whistleblower case can be complex and challenging. However, with the help of an experienced whistleblower lawyer, you can navigate the process and protect your rights as a whistleblower.
If you are considering blowing the whistle on fraud, contact an experienced whistleblower law firm like Brown, LLC today to learn more about your options and to protect your rights as a whistleblower.