Sarasota personal injury attorney Bill Robertson has won dozens of cases and millions of dollars for clients over a 30-year legal career.
But few cases in his past prepared him for one of his ultimate legal challenges: assisting companies and municipalities with recouping money from lost business connected to the April 2010 BP oil spill. The case required persistence mixed with patience, and a keen understanding of the intricate process set up by the administrators of the $20 billion post-spill trust fund.
Robertson and his firm, Kirk-Pinkerton, reviewed 500 potential claims from individuals, businesses and local governments, many in the Sarasota-Bradenton region, others spread from the Panhandle to the Keys. The list included hotels, real estate firms and even an international law practice, Sarasota-based Jaensch Immigration, which relies mostly on foreign tourists, from Europe and Canada, for its business.
“Since most of our clients typically begin as tourists, our business was definitely affected by the oil spill,” says Christopher Jaensch in a Kirk-Pinkerton blog post. “We had a lot of clients who had contacted us and said they were no longer interested in coming here or postponed their trips.”
Robertson ultimately secured more than $30 million in damages for clients after filing 115 claims, including one for Jaensch Immigration. The largest claim the firm won for a client was for more than $7 million — funds that didn't get disbursed until this year. (Municipalities were excluded from the class-action settlement, so the firm filed claims for Sarasota and Bradenton Beach separately.)
Seven years after the spill, nearly all of the 115 claims Kirk-Pinkerton filed have been paid out. The case was a chance-of-a-lifetime learning experience, says Robertson. He adds that it validates his long-held belief that despite the lawyer jokes, a well-prepared personal injury attorney can be a valuable asset, particularly in someone's worst hours. “This is one of the pinnacle events of my career,” Robertson tells Coffee Talk.
Robertson also says working on the case proves it's largely a myth that the BP fund payout system was ripe with abuse — though there have been some demonstrable cases of fraud.
Claimants had to present five years' worth of income to demonstrate an economic hit during the post-spill months of 2010. If there was a noticeable dip during that time period, then a rebound in 2011, the business likely met the criteria laid out for the settlement, Robertson says. That's why Kirk-Pinkerton took on only some 20% of the total claims it reviewed, skipping ones its attorneys believed were a stretch. “It was actually pretty tough to get paid,” says Robertson, “despite the rumors out there.”