Sunday, August 25, 2013

Remembering a Legend: Ron Motley - Plaintiffs Lawyer

Tobacco industry whistlebower Jeffrey Wigand with Ron Motley, right

Torts Today: Remembering a Legend: Ron Motley - Plaintiffs Lawyer:

Ron Motley has died at 68. An extravagant personality, married five times, owner of a 156 foot yacht, who tackled the most successful of tort-feasors - the tobacco companies and won, as the Times obit reports. He was a leading member of a cohort of plaintiffs lawyers who vindicated the rights of workers who suffered asbestos related disease. In the course of the effort they transformed the substantive law, as Anita Bernstein details in her article Asbestos Achievements. The asbestos plaintiffs lawyers transformed the substantive law, making possible - via advances in legal doctrine and financial wherewithal - the later successful mass tort litigation against the pharmaceutical giants, such as Merck in theVioxx litigation.
After the landmark 1974 opinion by (old) 5th Circuit JudgeJohn Minor Wisdom in Borel v. Fibreboard plaintiffs' lawyers took the evidence amassed by Dr. Irving Selikoff and others, and determinedly confronted the difficult issues in asbestos cases: identification of the defendant suppliers, the problem of multiple suppliers, apportionment of liability, proving causation of disease, the impact of smoking,the problem of latency - delayed development of disease many years after inhalation when witnesses and records (if any) were unavailable.

As a People's Electric alum I was a minor member of that fraternity. We were united by the spirit of doing justice to those who had been injured by the greed of industry. The asbestos litigation was at bottom a workers rights movement. For a handful of those lawyers of great force and entrepreneurial skill and determination that led to wealth. Motley was prominent among them, building a large practice from the suffering of South Carolina textile mill workers who were injured by the ubiquitous mineral used for fireproof curtains and insulation. At the Torts Today link above he is remembered by his partner Joe Rice. - gwc

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