His firm has just fixed its sites on what could be a very substantial class action case against Daimler Chrysler, representing the owners of some 2 million cars in the United States with alleged faulty tie rod assemblies.
"Daimler Chrysler had the option to recall the vehicles and install the kit and fix it themselves, but they chose not to," West says. "So we argued that they should have done that; and if they had, we would not have had a lawsuit," West says from his office in Shawnee, Oklahoma. "That is the purpose of the case," he says "to make them pay for those who had to get the tie rod assembly repaired."
The Oklahoma Supreme Court last week, granted class action certification allowing the cases against the carmaker to proceed.
The case is based on information collected from number incidents in the Kansas City area that pointed to a defect in the steering mechanism of certain vehicles manufactured by Daimler Chrysler between 1993 and 2001. Vehicles with the alleged fault in the power rack and pinion system include the Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision, Chrysler New Yorker, Chrysler LHS, Chrysler Concord, and the Chrysler 300M.
"There was a lawyer in Kansas City who had one of these cases that resulted in a significant injury to one of his clients," says West.
"The good news about this, normally they tend to quit working, or come apart at low speeds, at slow turns say into the driveway or garage," West added. "So there haven't been very many serious injuries. But the Kansas City lawyer had a case where one of them happened at a very high rate of speed and severely injured his client."
Terry West and The West Law Firm have a hard fought reputation as successful litigators. Its attorneys have settled or successfully litigated hundreds of cases involving personal injury, product liability, and defective drugs. In 2003, The West Law Firm won a 25 million dollar settlement from an Oklahoma Regional Hospital after a serious outbreak of hepatitis.
The firm is currently representing 30 people in a hepatitis outbreak case at a private diagnostic clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada. "They were basically doing the same thing they did in the hospital in Oklahoma," says West. "They were re-using needles when they were giving injections and the Nevada health department closed them down and required something like 40 thousand people to be examined to see if they had contracted Hepatitis, or Aids, or any other communicable disease," says West.
In the case against Daimler Chrysler, a potential fix for the problem was available as early as 2000. The company had introduced a new bolt for the rack and pinion steering gear, but West's firm argues that vehicle owners were not told that a $310 repair kit was available.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has capped compensation at 400 dollars per car, but given that 2 million cars are involved, the potential lawsuit could be in the millions and millions of dollars.
"I haven't done the math," says West, "obviously that wouldn't be enough for an individual case, but as a class action it works well."
Terry West graduated from the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1966. He has been practicing law ever since. He is a two-time president of the Oklahoma Trial Lawyers Association and a past governor of the state Bar Association.