In a roundtable discussion published in this month’s edition of California Lawyer magazine, Lieff Cabraser attorney Lexi Hazam reviews the latest developments in whistleblower law, including how the law is evolving in cases where the whistleblower must pursue the action without the assistance of the federal government.
Citing the DaVita case (David Barbetta v. DaVita Inc., et al., Case No. 1:09-cv-02175, U.S. District Court in Colorado), which resulted in a $400 million plus settlement, and the Trinity Guardrail case (U.S. ex rel. Joshua Harman v. Trinity Industries Inc., et al., Case No.2:12-cv-00089, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas), where the jury returned a verdict of more than $500 million, Hazam observed that whistleblowers have achieved spectacular results when they pursue their claims with private counsel even without the active involvement of the government.
The False Claims Act and similar qui tam statutes in many states, including California, allow people and entities who uncover fraud in government contracts and programs to file suit for recovery on the government’s behalf and to retain a percentage of the damages awarded. New areas in which qui tam cases are being brought include actions on behalf of pension funds for practices by banks or other companies providing services to these funds. One example is Lieff Cabraser’s representation of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System in a suit against their custodial banks for alleged fraudulent pricing in foreign exchange transactions.
Another trend in whistleblower lawsuits is cases filed against high tech companies nationwide, including firms in Silicon Valley, for providing misleading and inaccurate prices in contracts for technology services and products with the General Services Administration and other governmental agencies. False information regarding commercial prices can result in the federal agency entering into a contract costing more than non-government contracts, even though the contractor assured the agency it was providing a discount compared to the same price for services or products sold to private companies.
A partner in Lieff Cabraser’s San Francisco office, Hazam represents plaintiffs in qui tam actions, mass tort cases, and complex class actions. She has represented relators and local governments in health care, financial, education, and state and local government contract cases under the federal and state False Claims Acts, including in the Office Depot California False Claims Act case that settled for $88.5 million in 2015. Hazam also represents plaintiffs in drug and medical device injury cases, and in international disaster litigation.