A federal judge in Kansas City, Missouri, has given preliminary approval to a massive class-action settlement involving millions of allegedly defective Remington rifles that were the subject of a CNBC documentary.
The 2010 program "Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation" explored allegations that for decades the company covered up a design defect that allowed the guns to fire without the trigger being pulled, resulting in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries.
Under the settlement, which is still subject to final approval later this year, Remington will offer to replace the trigger systems, free of charge, on more than 7 million of its bolt-action rifles.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, Mark Lanier, called the settlement "a tremendous accomplishment" and "a great use of the legal system."
"It fixes what the plaintiffs are concerned is a misfire danger in the rifles, thus enhancing the safety of users and nearby third parties," Lanier said in an e-mail.
An attorney for Remington and DuPont, which owned Remington until 1993 and is also a defendant in the case, did not respond to an email seeking a comment.
Remington continues to insist the guns are safe, and claims all the incidents were the result of user error or improper maintenance. The company said it's agreeing to the settlement now in order to put the issue behind it once and for all. Remington's owner, Cerberus Capital Management, has been trying to exit the gun business since 2012.
The proposed settlement covers some of the world's most popular rifles, including Remington models 700, Seven, Sportsman 78, 673, 710, 715, 770, 600, 660, XP-100, 721, 722 and 725. All contain a tiny internal part known as a "trigger connector" that critics say can cause the guns to malfunction. Under the agreement, most owners would be eligible to have the guns retrofitted with a "connectorless" trigger system.
After the parties first proposed the settlement in December, U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith raised questions about the fact that under the agreement, owners of some 600,000 guns that the company says are too old to be retrofitted would instead receive Remington product vouchers worth as little as $10. At a hearing in February, Smith asked why the company had not considered buying back the guns instead.
"If the guns are defective, why are they still out there?" Smith asked. But the company and plaintiffs' attorneys—who stand to collect $12.5 million in fees if the deal goes through—said the voucher arrangement was the best option for the older models, which were manufactured as early as 1948.
The judge ordered plaintiffs' attorneys to add representative owners of the older rifles as named plaintiffs in the suit, giving them a more direct voice in the settlement. After the attorneys complied last week, the judge ruled Tuesday that the case may proceed.
"The terms of the agreement, and the settlement as provided therein, are approved preliminarily as fair, reasonable and adequate," Smith wrote.
The preliminary approval begins a roughly six-month period during which gun owners and other interested parties can formally object to the settlement.
A hearing to consider final approval of the settlement is set for Dec. 14.