Highly successful, crusading plaintiff’s attorney Robert L Motley died Thursday – a lawyer who took on the asbestos industry and then Big Tobacco, winning a monumental $247 Billion settlement – the biggest civil settlement in US history.
The LA Times reports that Motley died from organ failure, aged 68.
In the 1990s Motley pioneered the development of mass-tort litigation to sue tobacco makers and companies that sold asbestos-laden building products. He recovered billions of dollars for workers and consumers who blamed the manufacturers’ products for their illnesses.
In 1998 he helped his firm win a staggering $246-billion settlement from the tobacco industry.
William S. Ohlemeyer, a former in-house lawyer for Phillip Morris, who tried a tobacco case against Motley in Indiana, said he was a formidable opponent.
“It was impressive to watch him operate in the courtroom,” Ohlemeyer, now a partner at the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, said. “He was a spectacular trial lawyer who worked hard for his clients.”
The son of a gas-station owner in North Charleston, S.C., Motley became one of the United States’ most feared plaintiff’s lawyers. He could be seen striding across courtrooms in his “lucky” ostrich-skin boots and often used props to entertain jurors and annoy opponents.
As part of the tobacco industry settlement, in which companies agreed to make payments to states to resolve claims that cigarettes caused public-health dangers, Motley’s firm earned an estimated $2 billion in fees.
The flamboyant attorney was portrayed by actor Bruce McGill in the 1999 movie “The Insider,” an account of tobacco scientist Jeffrey Wigand’s decision to expose the industry’s knowledge about nicotine’s addictiveness. The film starred Russell Crowe as Wigand.
Motley was born in Charleston on Oct. 21, 1944, and pumped gas at his father’s service station in a working-class neighborhood. He attended the University of South Carolina, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1966. He worked briefly as a high school history teacher before returning to the university where he obtained a law degree in 1971.
In the mid-1970s, after a stint as an assistant prosecutor in Greenwood, S.C., he began to make a name for himself by filing the first suits against Johns Manville Corp. and other companies that sold products containing asbestos. Studies have shown the material can cause cancer and lung problems.
Motley and his law firm recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for workers injured by exposure to asbestos and forced more than 30 asbestos companies into bankruptcy.
The asbestos litigation made him a wealthy man. According to Forbes magazine, Motley took home $11 million in fees.
He and his firm invested profits from the asbestos victory into developing the case against tobacco.
For Motley, representing smokers who developed lung cancer was a personal matter: His mother was an ex-smoker who died from the disease in 1984.