A proposed plan to replace the triggers in millions of allegedly defective Remington rifles is "designed to fail," a leading expert on class action settlements said.
Philadelphia-based consultant Todd Hilsee said the proposal has been crafted by the company and plaintiffs' attorneys largely to address "Remington's public relations concerns" instead of properly notifying gun owners that there may be a problem.
The allegations in a 30-page letter from Hilsee, who helped write the federal court rules on notifying victims in class action cases, could further threaten a tenuous settlement agreement involving Remington's popular Model 700 bolt-action rifle, which CNBC investigated in a 2010 documentary. Dozens of lawsuits have alleged that for decades, Remington has covered up a deadly design defect that allows the guns to fire without the trigger being pulled, resulting in hundreds of injuries and at least two dozen deaths.
Remington has denied the allegations and continues to maintain that the guns are safe. Nonetheless, the company agreed in 2014 to the landmark settlement covering some 7.5 million rifles including the Model 700 and a dozen other firearms with similar designs. At the time, the company said it was agreeing to the settlement in order to avoid protracted litigation.
In his scathing letter to the judge overseeing the case, Hilsee wrote that the settlement—and what he called an "inadequate" plan to notify the public—risked leaving millions of allegedly defective guns in the public's hands, with little or no recourse left for accident victims.
"The notice as written reduces safety concerns about the guns, which would have caused fewer people to seek replacement, less money being spent by Remington, and fewer potential deaths and injuries being prevented," Hilsee wrote.
The letter came on the eve of a key hearing Tuesday in Kansas City to consider a new notification plan developed by Remington and plaintiffs' attorneys. U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith ruled last December that their original plan was inadequate because only around 2,300 gun owners had filed claims.
Hilsee said the new plan was no better than the first one, and urged the judge to send the parties back to the drawing board yet again. Otherwise, he wrote, "I'm afraid the Court and Class will get stung."
Attorneys for Remington did not respond to multiple e-mails over the weekend seeking a comment.
Hilsee reserved some of his harshest criticism for plaintiffs' attorneys, who, he wrote, "were appointed to represent fathers and mothers of kids" killed in Remington rifle accidents. Yet, he said, the attorneys agreed to a "defective" plan to notify the public. Under the proposed settlement agreement, the attorneys stand to collect $12.5 million in fees regardless of how many gun owners get their triggers replaced.