A $680 million award in the plaintiff-friendly Eastern District of Texas illustrates some of the problems with the federal False Claims Act, the whistleblower law enabling bounty-hunting suits against government vendors and contractors [Ilya Shapiro, earlier here, here, and here]:
Trinity contends — and the alleged federal-agency victim agrees! — that the re-designed device, which passed all diagnostic tests, met all the safety criteria required by the FHWA, and therefore that the omission of the redesign failed to qualify as the sort of “false statement” required for liability under the FCA. Despite a warning from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit regarding the weakness of the FCA claims, a trial court in the eastern district of Texas—known for being a “judicial hellhole”—moved the case forward, to an eventual jury verdict for Harman.
The jury found Trinity liable for more than $680 million in damages, which is the largest damage award in FCA history. Out of the millions in damages and penalties, the court awarded Harman a 30% share of the recovery, plus almost $19 million in attorneys’ fees and expenses.
Cato has submitted a Fifth Circuit amicus brief “arguing that the jury’s finding of liability and damages were unsustainable under the law.”