Railroad workers help maintain and expand one of the most important infrastructure systems in the United States. There is a substantial amount of federal funding available for organizations that install, maintain and repair actual railroad routes. Many large companies in this niche sector work throughout the year to ensure that the metal, wood and stone supporting trains as they travel all remain in safe operating condition. Yet, sometimes, workers helping service railroads in the United States notice issues with how their employers operate.
In some situations, those workers could file a lawsuit against their employer because of those questionable business practices. What is a qui tam lawsuit, and when can a railroad worker file one?
A qui tam lawsuit involves acting for the government
If the federal government had to directly uncover misconduct and other negligent business practices to take action, the public would be at serious risk. It would likely be catastrophic railroad failures, like derailments caused by aging infrastructure, that would bring business practices to light.
Therefore, the government tries to incentivize workers to speak up when they know there is something wrong. A qui tam lawsuit involves an individual taking legal action against their employer on behalf of the federal government. Sometimes, the government will review the lawsuit and assume control of the litigation process. Other times, the employee-turned-plaintiff must pursue the entire case from beginning to end.
When can workers file a qui tam lawsuit?
Railroad workers typically only have the option of pursuing a qui tam lawsuit in one specific situation. When the company that employs them bills for services not rendered, workers can file a qui tam lawsuit. The False Claims Act authorizes employees with non-public information to become relators who act on behalf of the federal government.
If a lawsuit results in the government recovering funds previously paid to the business for services not rendered, the worker could receive a portion of those funds as compensation for their efforts. If a qui tam lawsuit is successful, it can force a railroad to change its practices. The worker who brings the lawsuit can receive financial compensation and also typically has federal protection against retaliation from their employer. The business cannot fire or otherwise punish them for drawing attention to the company’s misconduct.
Understanding the options available when railroad workers uncover concerning business practices could help someone find the courage to take action for the protection of the public.