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Judge approves Remington rifle settlement plan—with a catch

The federal judge overseeing a proposed class action settlement involving millions of allegedly defective Remington firearms says the parties can go ahead with a revised plan to notify gun owners of their right to get the triggers replaced.

But in a unique twist, the judge is delaying final approval of the settlement until he sees how many people file claims.

The case involves Remington's popular Model 700 rifle as well as a dozen other models with a similar design, which were the subject of a 2010 CNBC documentary and a follow-up investigation last year. Plaintiffs allege that for decades, Remington covered up a design flaw that allowed the guns to fire without the trigger being pulled, resulting in at least two dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Remington denies the allegations and says the guns are safe, but agreed in 2014 to replace the triggers on some 7 million guns free of charge in order to end the costly litigation once and for all.

But the judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith in Kansas City, balked at the agreement and sent the parties back to the drawing board after only a handful of gun owners responded to the initial offer.

"The Court cannot conceive that an owner of an allegedly defective firearm would not seek the remedy being provided," Smith wrote in December.

The parties came back with a revised plan in June, developed in part by former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, that added social media, talk radio, and internet banner ads to the original direct mail and print campaign designed to alert gun owners of the offer.

That plan drew even more criticism, including a scathing letter to the court from an authority on class action settlement notices — Philadelphia-based consultant Todd Hilsee — who wrote last month that the plan was "designed to fail," and seemed geared more toward addressing "Remington's public relations concerns" than actually getting guns fixed.

Remington and the plaintiffs fired back with their own expert, calling Hilsee's letter "false, rife with misinformation, and derived from a foregone era of media consumption."

In an order issued today, Judge Smith sided with the company and the plaintiffs for now, but with one important change: Rather than giving final approval to the settlement now — and allowing plaintiffs' attorneys to collect $12.5 million in fees — he is deferring final approval of the settlement until February, apparently depending on how many people file claims between now and then.

"The Court expressly reserves its decision with regard to the adequacy and reasonableness of the Plan," Smith wrote.

Smith also ordered a new opportunity for gun owners to object or opt out of the settlement; a previous window had long since expired. The new deadline is November 18.

The new schedule means that at least in theory, Remington owners will be bombarded with notices about the class action settlement just as the fall hunting season approaches.

An attorney for the plaintiffs hailed the ruling.

"We applaud Judge Smith's clear concern for safety, dedication to increasing claims and getting as many new triggers in guns as possible," said Eric Holland in an e-mail to CNBC.

Attorneys for Remington did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the latest ruling.

The settlement covers some of Remington's top-selling models including the 700, Seven, Sportsman 78, 673, 710, 715, 770, 600, 660, XP-100, 721, 722, and 725, produced since 1948.