Generally speaking, the federal government is responsible for bringing civil or criminal actions against those whom it believes have acted wrongfully in their interactions with the government. However, there are occasions when a private citizen can bring a lawsuit against an individual or company, in essence acting on the government’s behalf. This is called a “qui tam” suit and can result in a monetary reward for the citizen. A person who files such a suit is often referred to as a “whistleblower.” Public policy favors the right of whistleblowers to file these suits because they encourage those “in the know” to be on the lookout for fraud against the government and file suit accordingly.
In the recent case of United States v. Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit was asked to review such a case. The suit pertained to a grant application made to the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in 2001. In a previous opinion, the court had overturned the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants and remanded the matter for further proceedings.
Allegations in the Relator’s Complaint
The whistleblower filed his qui tam action in 2006, naming two hospitals (Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital) and two doctors as defendants. The suit was brought pursuant to the federal False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3729, which specifically authorizes qui tam actions. According to the whistleblower’s accusations, the defendants knowingly made false and fraudulent claims for federal funds when submitting a proposal to the NIA by, among other things, falsifying certain scientific data concerning the preliminary results of an Alzheimer’s disease study. The whistleblower further alleged that the NIA approved the grant and awarded some $12 million in federal funding over a five-year period.
What Happened in Trial Court
After a previous remand by the appellate court, the case was tried to a jury, which found in favor of the defendants. The whistleblower appealed.
The Court of Appeals’ Ruling
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. According to the court, the whistleblower had been afforded an opportunity to present his claims to the jury, but the jury had found in favor of the defendants. Although the whistleblower made several allegations of error, including purported flaws in the instructions given to the jury, the appellate court did not find any reason to upset the jury’s determination.
To Speak to an Experienced Massachusetts Attorney about a Dangerous Product
This whistleblower’s suit was unsuccessful, but it does illustrate that the field of medical research can be complicated, highly competitive, and quite lucrative. Such an atmosphere has the potential for dangerous medications and medical devices to make their way to patients in the rush to be the first to market. If you believe you or a family member has been hurt by a bad drug or other defective product, call the Law Firm of John C. Manoog, III at 888-262-6664 to schedule a free initial consultation. With offices in Hyannis and Plymouth, we represent clients throughout the Cape Cod area.
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