False claims legislation back before House members

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Supporters of a bill that encourages lawsuits by private citizens against government for fraud are trying to renew momentum for the legislation.

The “false claims” bill (H.B. 4001) quickly passed the House Judiciary Committee in the opening days of the session, but hit a roadblock before the full House when business leaders raised concerns.

Under so-called “qui tam” legislation, citizens would be able to file suit against the state government, or companies doing business with the government, alleging fraud. If they win, they get a percentage of the settlement money.

State Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts has called it a “sue-and-settle” bill and a boon to trial lawyers.  However, during a public hearing Tuesday, Patrick Burns of Taxpayers Against Fraud said the whistle blower suits hold the government and companies responsible for wrongdoing.

“Getting caught shouldn’t be, ‘Oh, we just got caught.  We’ll just have to pay back what we stole.’  If you do that then you have incentivized fraud.  If you hit them with trouble damages, then you disincentivize fraud,” Burns said.

Burns also dismissed concerns that the law will produce a rash of frivolous lawsuits by trial lawyers.

“They really understand it’s going to take years to move litigation and so they’re only going after the big fish,” he said.


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