South Carolina

Ronald L. Motley
Founding Member (1944 - 2013)

Ronald L. Motley

Ron Motley fought for greater justice, accountability and recourse, and has been widely recognized as one of America’s most accomplished and skilled trial lawyers. During a career that spanned more than four decades, his persuasiveness before a jury and ability to break new legal and evidentiary ground brought to justice two once-invincible giant industries whose malfeasance took the lives of millions of Americans — asbestos and tobacco. Armed with a combination of legal and trial skills, personal charisma, nose-to-the-grindstone hard work and record of success, Ron built Motley Rice into one of the nation’s largest plaintiffs’ law firms.

Noted for his role in spearheading the historic litigation against the tobacco industry, Ron served as lead trial counsel for 26 State Attorneys General in the lawsuits. His efforts to uncover corporate and scientific wrongdoing resulted in the Master Settlement Agreement, the largest civil settlement in U.S. history and in which the tobacco industry agreed to reimburse states for smoking-related health care costs.

Through his pioneering discovery and collaboration, Ron exposed asbestos manufacturers and the harmful and disabling effects of occupational, environmental and household asbestos exposure. He represented thousands of asbestos victims and achieved numerous trial breakthroughs, including the class actions and mass consolidations of Cimino, et al. v. Raymark, et al. (U.S.D.C. TX); Abate, et al. v. ACandS, et al. (Baltimore); and In re Asbestos Personal Injury Cases (Mississippi).

In 2002, Ron once again advanced cutting-edge litigation as lead counsel for the 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism with a lawsuit filed by more than 6,500 family members, survivors and those who lost their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The suit seeks justice and ultimately bankruptcy for al Qaeda’s financiers, including many individuals, banks, corporations and charities that provided resources and monetary aid. He also served as lead counsel in numerous individual aviation security liability and damages cases under the In re September 11 Litigation filed against the aviation and aviation security industries by victims’ families devastated by the security failures of 9/11. 

Ron brought the landmark case of Oran Almog v. Arab Bank against the alleged financial sponsors of Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Israel and was a firm leader in the BP Deepwater Horizon litigation and claims efforts involving people and businesses in Gulf Coast communities suffering as a result of the oil spill. Two settlements were reached with BP, and one of which is the largest civil class action settlement in U.S. history. 

Ron won widespread honors for his ability to win justice for his clients and for his seminal impact on the course of civil litigation. In 2013, the South Carolina Association for Justice (SCAJ) recognized Ron with its prestigious Founders’ Award, and he was inducted into  The Trial Lawyer 2012 Hall of Fame in recognition of his lifetime of public service. He was selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America® from 1993 to 2013 for his work in mass tort litigation/class actions - plaintiffs; personal injury litigation - plaintiffs; and product liability litigation - plaintiffs. In addition, he was named the Best Lawyers'® 2010 Charleston-SC Personal Injury Litigation "Lawyer of the Year" and Best Lawyers2012 Charleston-SC Mass Tort Litigation/Class Actions- Plaintiffs "Lawyer of the Year." The inaugural 2012 edition of Benchmark Plaintiff, The Definitive Guide to America's Leading Plaintiff Firms & Attorneys recognized Ron as a "Litigation Star" in its national rankings for mass tort/product liability and securities and, in 2013, ranked him nationally again for his work in civil rights/human rights and mass tort/product liability. Benchmark Plaintiff recognized him in both 2012 and 2013, in its South Carolina rankings in human rights, product liability, securities and toxic tort.

Ron was a 2011 recipient of the SC Lawyers Weekly Leadership in Law Award and was highlighted in the 2011–2013 Litigation editions of The Legal 500 United States for his work in mass tort and class action: plaintiff representation- toxic tort. The Trial Lawyer Magazine  named him as a 2011 member of The Roundtable: America's 100 Most Influential Trial Lawyers. Chambers USA named him in the 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012 editions for his work in product liability and mass torts: plaintiffs, calling him in one edition "an accomplished trial lawyer and a formidable opponent." Recognized as an AV® rated  attorney by Martindale-Hubbell®, Ron was also selected for inclusion in the South Carolina Super Lawyers® list 2008–2013 and was named numerous times among the "Best of the Best" on the Top 10 South Carolina Super Lawyers list (2008) and Top 25 South Carolina Super Lawyers list (2008, 2009, 2011, 2012). He was included in every edition of the Lawdragon™ 500 Leading Lawyers in America list from 2005–2012 for his work in the plaintiffs' field.

The American Association for Justice (AAJ) elected Ron to be a lifetime member in 2012, and in 2010, awarded him with its highest honor, the Lifetime Achievement Award. The AAJ also honored Ron in 2007 with the David S. Shrager President's Award for his outstanding contributions to the safety and protection of American consumers and the civil justice system, and in 1998, named him the Harry M. Philo Trial Lawyer of the Year. Ron served on the AAJ Board of Governors from 1977 to 2012 and was chair of its Asbestos Litigation Group from 1978 to 2012.

In 1998, he received the President's Award of the National Association of Attorneys General for his "courage, legal skills and dedication to our children and the public health of our nation." The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids gave him their Youth Advocates of the Year Award in 1999. For his trial achievements, BusinessWeek characterized Ron's courtroom skills as "dazzling." American Lawyer dubbed him "The man who took on Manville," and The National Law Journal ranked him, "One of the most influential lawyers in America."

Published Works:

Ron authored or co-authored more than two dozen publications, including:

  • "Decades of Deception: Secrets of Lead, Asbestos and Tobacco" (Trial Magazine, October 1999)
  • "Asbestos Disease Among Railroad Workers: 'Legacy of the Laggin' Wagon'" (Trial Magazine, December 1981)
  • "Asbestos and Lung Cancer," New York State Journal of Medicine, June 1980; Volume 80: No.7, New York State Medical Association, New York.
  • "Occupational Disease and Products Liability Claims" (South Carolina Trial Lawyers Bulletin, September and October 1976)

Featured In:

He has also been featured in numerous articles, books and scripts, including:

  • Shackelford, Susan. "Major Leaguer" (South Carolina Super Lawyers, April 2008)
  • Senior, Jennifer. "A Nation Unto Himself" (The New York Times, March 2004)
  • Freedman, Michael. "Turning Lead into Gold," (Forbes, May 2001)
  • Zegart, Dan. Civil Warriors: The Legal Siege on the Tobacco Industry. Delacorte Press, 2000.
  • Ansen, David. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (Newsweek, 1999)
  • Mann, Michael & Roth, Eric. "The Insider" (Blue Lion Entertainment, November 5, 1999)
  • Brenner, Marie. "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (Vanity Fair, May 1996)
  • Reisig, Robin. "The Man Who Took on Manville" (The American Lawyer, January 1983)

He was licensed in S.C. and was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third, Fourth, Fifth and Eleventh Circuits. In 2002, Ron founded the Mark Elliott Motley Foundation, Inc., in loving memory of his son to help meet the health, education and welfare needs of children and young adults in the Charleston, S.C., community.


American Bar Association
Civil Justice Foundation
Inner Circle of Advocates
International Academy of Trial Lawyers
South Carolina Association for Justice

* The Best Lawyers in America® 2012 (Copyright 2011 by Woodward/White, Inc., of Aiken, S.C.)

* Please remember that every case is different. Although it endorses this lawyer, The Legal 500 United States is not a Motley Rice client. Any result we achieve for one client in one matter does not necessarily indicate similar results can be obtained for other clients.