What’s a Qui Tam?

The Qui Tam King - King Wihtred in Stained Glass

The Qui Tam King – King Wihtred in Stained Glass

The term qui tam is short for qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur, which translates to “who pursues this action on our Lord the King’s behalf as well as his own.”  People pronounce qui tam in different ways.  I say “key tamm;” a few notable people in the field say “kwee tom” and “kwee tamm.”  The bottom line is Latin is a dead language, so you can choose what seems right to you.  Qui tam attorneys will recognize all three pronunciations.

While most people believe whistleblower bounty programs are a relatively new idea, the truth is that qui tam actions have been around for more than 1300 years.  Qui tam actions originated in England as a joinder device allowing a party to bring an action for a combination of interests – private and that of the sovereign, or public.  In 635 A.D., King Wihtred of Kent outlawed labor on the Sabbath, and his decree included a qui tam provision.  Any man who informed against a violator of the King’s decree would receive half of the fine imposed and the profits from the labor.  Interests of private parties in the thirteenth century included the interests of those who had suffered an injury and those of common informers, a type of bounty hunter who would report violations and share in the recovery from the violation.  English courts recognized statutory and common law qui tam actions by 1400.  Statutory qui tam actions allowed private prosecutors to share financially in the penalty and permitted private persons to initiate a suit to recover the penalty.

The long history of qui tam litigation means that the case law is intricate and in many cases, thin.  There are plenty of ways to mess up a qui tam.  Whistleblowers who believe they may have a qui tam claim should consult experienced qui tam counsel about individual cases.  Qui tam counsel will often assess a potential case for free.

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