A federal judge has agreed to further delay a class-action settlement involving some 7.5 million allegedly defective Remington rifles, after the parties in the case said they need more time to develop a better plan to alert the public.
United States District Judge Ortrie Smith in Missouri put the case on hold last month, hours after CNBC published a new investigation into allegations that Remington's popular Model 700 rifle contains a design defect that allows it to fire without the trigger being pulled.
Remington continues to deny that there is a defect, but nonetheless has agreed to replace the triggers, free of charge, in millions of guns. However, Smith ordered the company and plaintiffs lawyers to go back to the drawing board, because only 2,327 gun owners out of more than 7 million had submitted claims since the tentative settlement was first announced.
"The Court cannot conceive that an owner of an allegedly defective firearm would not seek the remedy being provided," Smith wrote Dec. 8.
The judge gave the parties until this Friday to come up with a better plan to notify the public, but in a motion this week, they said they need more time, citing "the complexity of the issues," and "the need to work with one or more third parties" to come up with the new plan.
The judge agreed to give both sides another 45 days, until Feb. 29.
Remington critics consider the delay a victory.
The watchdog group Public Justice, which secured the release of thousands of Remington internal documents at the heart of last month's CNBC report and has vowed to post all of the documents online, said it is "delighted" that the parties are taking time to come up with the best possible plan.
"These rifles can fire when no one pulls the trigger," said Public Justice Chairman Arthur Bryant. "The proposed settlement would let over 7 million people get them repaired or replaced for free. As many gun owners as possible need to learn these rifles are dangerously defective, stop using them, and file a claim to get them repaired or replaced for free. Every claim filed is a potential life saved."
A lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Mark Lanier of Houston, expressed a similar sentiment when the judge put the settlement on hold last month.
"I do think this settlement offers an important fix that will help save lives," Lanier told CNBC by e-mail. "I hope your story helps get the word out, and that we are able to get all the guns changed."
An attorney for Remington and DuPont, which owned the gun maker during the key phases of the 700 series' development, has said the companies would have no comment beyond their arguments in court. But regardless of any changes in the plans to notify the public, Remington is not expected to alter its stance that the guns are safe.
Remington has said it is agreeing to retrofit the guns "to avoid the uncertainties and expense of protracted litigation, and to ensure continued satisfaction for its valuable customers."
In addition to the Model 700, the settlement covers the following Remington firearms: Seven, Sportsman 78, 673, 710, 715, 770, 600, 660, 721, 722 and 725 rifles, and the XP-100 bolt-action pistol.