Motley Rice co-founder Joe Rice is recognized as a skillful and innovative negotiator of complex litigation settlements, having served as the lead negotiator in some of the largest civil actions our courts have seen in the last 30 years.
Corporate Legal Times reported that national defense counsel and legal scholars described Joe as one of the nation's “five most feared and respected plaintiffs’ lawyers in corporate America.” As the article notes, "For all his talents as a shrewd negotiator ... Rice has earned most of his respect from playing fair and remaining humble.” His alma mater, the University of South Carolina School of Law, rebranded in his honor in November 2023, and is now known as the Joseph F. Rice School of Law.
Joe was recognized by some of the nation’s best-regarded defense lawyers as being “the smartest dealmaker they ever sat across the table from,” Thomson Reuters has reported. Professor Samuel Issacharoff of the New York University School of Law, a well-known professor and expert in class actions and complex litigation, has commented that he is “the best strategic thinker on the end stages of litigation that I’ve ever seen.”
Since beginning to practice law in 1979, Joe has continued to reinforce his reputation as a skillful negotiator, including through his involvement structuring some of the most significant resolutions of asbestos liabilities on behalf of those injured by asbestos‐related products. He negotiates for the firm's clients at all levels, including in securities and consumer fraud, anti-terrorism, human rights, and environmental, and medical drug and device cases, as well as catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases. He is recognized as an AV Preeminent® rated attorney in Martindale-Hubbell®.
National Prescription Opiate MDL:
Joe is co-lead counsel in the National Prescription Opiate MDL aimed at combatting the alleged over-distribution and deceptive marketing of prescription opioids. Joe, as Chair of the opioid Negotiating Committee, worked with the committee and the Attorney General Committee to reach over $51 billion in settlements for communities nationwide with defendants in the opioid supply chain. Motley Rice continues to represent dozens of governmental entities, including the first jurisdictions to file cases in the current wave of litigation.
Joe was added in August 2023 as a co-lead counsel in In re Aqueous Film-Forming Foams Products Liability Litigation, MDL No. 2873 in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, where he litigates for public water systems and other plaintiffs alleging toxic AFFF contamination of drinking water in hundreds of water providers’ water supplies, as well as groundwater near military bases, airports, and other sites where firefighting foams were used. Communities near these sites have allegedly suffered a heightened need for medical monitoring, personal injuries, property damage, and economic losses due to toxic AFFF chemical discharges into the environment.
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune:
Joe serves on a court-appointed Resolution Committee that will help keep victim concerns and interests front and center in a multipronged effort to resolve claims filed through the VA and the Department of the Navy, as well as pending court cases. Victims include service members, their families and civilians who lived and worked at Camp Lejeune between Aug. 1, 1953 and Dec. 31, 1987 and were exposed to toxic water sources believed to cause birth defects, cancer and other life-altering diseases.
Joe served as one of the lead negotiators in the $15 billion Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Fraud class action settlement for 2.0-liter vehicles, the largest auto-related consumer class action settlement in U.S. history, as well as the 3.0-liter settlement. Under his leadership, Motley Rice also helped negotiate a pair of Takata bankruptcy resolutions that secured funds for victims who were harmed by the company’s deadly, explosive airbags. Joe also serves as a member of the Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee for In re General Motors LLC Ignition Switch Litigation, and was appointed to the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee for In re Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep Ecodiesel Marketing, Sales Practices, and Products Liability Litigation.
Medical Drugs and Devices:
Joe led negotiations on behalf of thousands of women who allege complications and severe health effects caused by transvaginal mesh and sling products, including litigation that has five MDLs pending in the state of West Virginia. He is also a member of the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee for the Lipitor® MDL, filed for patients who allege the cholesterol drug caused their Type 2 diabetes.
BP Oil Spill:
Joe served as a co-lead negotiator for the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee in reaching the two settlements with BP, one of which is the largest civil class action settlement in U.S. history. The Economic and Property Damages Rule 23 Class Action Settlement is estimated to make payments totaling between $7.8 billion and $18 billion to class members. Joe was also one of the lead negotiators of the $1.028 billion settlement reached between the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee and Halliburton Energy Services, Inc., for Halliburton’s role in the disaster.
Joe held a crucial role in executing strategic mediations and/or resolutions on behalf of 56 families of 9/11 victims who opted out of the government-created September 11 Victim Compensation Fund. In addition to providing answers, accountability and recourse to victims’ families, the resulting settlements with multiple defendants shattered a settlement matrix developed and utilized for decades. The litigation also helped provide public access to evidence uncovered for the trial.
As lead private counsel for 26 jurisdictions, including numerous State Attorneys General, Joe was integral to the crafting and negotiating of the landmark Master Settlement Agreement, in which the tobacco industry agreed to reimburse states for smoking-related health costs. This remains the largest civil settlement in U.S. history.
Joe held leadership and negotiating roles involving the bankruptcies of several large organizations, including AWI, Federal Mogul, Johns Manville, Celotex, Garlock, W.R. Grace, Babcock & Wilcox, U.S. Gypsum, Owens Corning and Pittsburgh Corning. He has also worked on numerous Trust Advisory Committees. Today, he maintains a critical role in settlements involving asbestos manufacturers emerging from bankruptcy and has been recognized for his work in structuring significant resolutions in complex personal injury litigation for asbestos liabilities on behalf of victims injured by asbestos-related products. Joe has served as co-chair of Perrin Conferences’ Asbestos Litigation Conference, the largest national asbestos-focused conference.
Securities and Consumer Fraud:
Joe is often sought by investment funds for guidance on litigation strategies to increase shareholder value, enhance corporate governance reforms and recover assets. He was an integral part of the shareholder derivative action against Omnicare, Inc., Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust v. Gemunder, which resulted in a significant settlement for shareholders as well as new corporate governance policies for the corporation.
Joe serves on the Board of Advisors for Emory University's Institute for Complex Litigation and Mass Claims, which facilitates bipartisan discussion of ways to improve the civil justice system through the hosting of judicial seminars, bar conferences, academic programs, and research. In 1999 and 2000, he served on the faculty at Duke University School of Law as a Senior Lecturing Fellow, and taught classes on the art of negotiating at the University of South Carolina School of Law, Duke University School of Law and Charleston School of Law.
In 2013, he and the firm created the Ronald L. Motley Scholarship Fund at The University of South Carolina School of Law in memory and honor of co-founding member and friend, Ron Motley.
Dee Norton Lowcountry Children’s Center, Co-chair for inaugural Campaign for the Next Child
First Tee of Greater Charleston, Board of Advisors
American Heart Association of the Lowcountry, 2018 Heart Walk Chair
Litigation AreasAnti-Terrorism Asbestos Exposure Aviation Consumer Fraud Protection Human Rights Medical Devices Medical Drugs Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Public Client Securities Class Actions Toxic Exposure
J.D., University of South Carolina School of Law, 1979 (The Joseph F. Rice School of Law as of 2023)
B.S., University of South Carolina, 1976
- District of Columbia
- South Carolina
Admitted to Practice Before
U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third, Fourth and Fifth Circuits
U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska and the District of South Carolina
American Association for Justice
American Bar Association
American Inns of Court
American Constitution Society for Law and Policy
South Carolina Association for Justice
Awards and Accolades
2019–2021 Product Liability: Plaintiffs – Nationwide, Band 1
2016, 2018 Product Liability: Plaintiffs – Nationwide, Band 2
2013 “Lawyer of the Year” Charleston, SC: Mass tort litigation/class actions – plaintiffs
2007–2024 Mass tort litigation/class actions – plaintiffs
2022–2024 Personal injury litigation – plaintiffs
2024 Corporate governance law; Government relations practice; Product liability litigation – plaintiffs
2008–2021 South Carolina Super Lawyers® list
Class action/mass torts; Securities litigation; General litigation
2016, 2018–2022 Lawdragon 500
2019–2023 Lawdragon 500 Plaintiff Consumer Lawyers
2019–2023 Lawdragon 500 Plaintiff Financial Lawyers
2020 Elite Trial Lawyers Lifetime Achievement Award
2014 Litigation Trailblazers
2010 Top 100 Trial Lawyers™ – South Carolina
2011–2012, 2014–2021 Legal 500 Leading Lawyer list
Dispute resolution – product liability, mass tort and class action – toxic tort – plaintiff
*Although it endorses this lawyer, The Legal 500 United States is not a Motley Rice client.
2018 Founders' Award
2012–2013 National “Litigation Star”: mass tort/product liability
2012–2017 South Carolina “Litigation Star”: environmental, mass tort/product liability
2011 Platinum Compleat Lawyer Award
1998 President’s Award
2010 Johnnie Dodds Award: in honor of his longtime support of the annual Bulls Bay Golf Challenge Fundraiser and continued work on behalf of our community’s children
2011 Garnet Award: in recognition of Joe and his family for their passion for and devotion to Gamecock athletics
2011 Tom Fazio Service to Golf Award: in recognition of promotional efforts