Ronald Motley: Lawyer who took on Hamas, al-Qaeda and the tobacco industry


Ronald Motley, who died on 22 August at the age of 68, was a lawyer best known for leading lawsuits against tobacco and asbestos companies and for pursuing cases against Hamas and al-Qaeda.

He was lead counsel for more than 6,500 family members and survivors of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, seeking justice from al-Qaeda’s financiers.

Motley served as lead trial counsel for 26 states in the tobacco lawsuits. His efforts resulted in the Master Settlement Agreement, in which the tobacco industry agreed to reimburse states for smoking-related health care costs. The companies agreed to pay a minimum of $206 billion over the first 25 years of the Agreement. In the 1999 film The Insider, which starred Russell Crowe as a tobacco-industry whistle-blower, Motley was portrayed by Bruce McGill.

He also did much to confront asbestos manufacturers with the harmful effects of occupational, environmental and household exposure. Representing thousands of victims, he achieved numerous trial breakthroughs. In 2002 he became lead counsel for the 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism group with a lawsuit filed by family members, victims and survivors of 9/11. The suit seeks bankruptcy for al Qaeda’s financiers, including individuals, banks, corporations and charities that provided resources and funds. He also served as lead counsel in numerous individual suits against the aviation and aviation security industries by victims’ families devastated by security failures.

He brought a landmark case against the alleged financial sponsors of Hamas and other terrorist organisations in Israel and was a leader in the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster litigation involving people and businesses in Gulf Coast communities suffering as a result of the oil spill.