Judge questions Remington rifle settlement

A shooter takes aim with a Remington Model 700 SPS Varmint rifle at the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Jan. 28, 2013.
Joel Page | Reuters
A shooter takes aim with a Remington Model 700 SPS Varmint rifle at the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Jan. 28, 2013.

The federal judge who is considering a proposed nationwide settlement involving Remington's iconic Model 700 series rifle is making clear he has no intention of rubber-stamping the deal.

Under the settlement filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Missouri, last week, Remington would replace the triggers on millions of rifles that class-action plaintiffs claim are prone to firing without the trigger being pulled.

At least 24 deaths and hundreds of injuries have been linked to accidental firings of the rifles, an issue explored in the 2010 documentary "Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation." But the company denies the guns are defective, and has stressed that the settlement should not be considered a recall.

Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation   

Senior U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith has postponed ruling on the settlement, instead scheduling a hearing for Feb. 4. But he is already questioning whether the deal treats owners of the guns fairly, and whether Remington plans to do enough to publicize it. The judge also wants to know more about a provision that allows the company to back out of the deal if too many customers opt out of it.

Under the proposed settlement covering nearly 8 million guns produced since 1948, Remington agrees to retrofit most of the rifles, free of charge, with a trigger mechanism the plaintiffs say is safer. But because some of the guns—specifically models 600, 660, XP-100, 721, 722 and 725—cannot be retrofitted, those owners would instead receive a voucher for $10 or $12.50 worth of Remington products.

In his order scheduling the hearing, Smith demands both sides "explain why $10 and $12.50 is a sufficient amount of money to provide these class members when they still will own a firearm that may misfire."

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Smith, a Clinton appointee who has been on the federal bench since 1995, also raises questions about the plans to notify customers about the settlement.

Under the proposal, a Philadelphia-based claims administrator, Angeion Group, would publicize the settlement in several national magazines, on the Internet and through direct mail, in a campaign Angeion estimates would reach about 73 percent of the owners. The notices would direct customers to a dedicated website to download the documents they need. The judge questions whether a separate website is needed.

"The court would like the parties to explain why these documents will not be provided on Remington's website," Smith writes. He also wants to know whether Remington's website will at least provide a link to the settlement site.

Finally, the judge wants more information about an escape clause that allows Remington—in its sole discretion—to cancel the agreement if too many people opt out to pursue their own claims—so much so that it "threatens to frustrate the purpose of the agreement."

"The court would like the parties to explain how Remington will determine what a 'sufficient' number is."

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In their joint statement last week announcing the settlement, both Remington and the plaintiffs said they would have no further comment until the agreement is approved.