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Remington rifle settlement is a 'sham,' critics say

The Remington Arms booth stands on the exhibition floor of the 144th National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., on Saturday, April 11, 2015.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The Remington Arms booth stands on the exhibition floor of the 144th National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits at the Music City Center in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., on Saturday, April 11, 2015.

A proposed class action settlement aimed at fixing millions of allegedly defective Remington rifles is "fatally flawed" and "a dysfunctional sham," critics say, addressing only a small number of guns while leaving millions more in the public's hands. In court filings, the critics, all of whom own various firearms covered under the settlement, are urging a federal judge to reject the deal.

The tentative agreement — reached nearly two years ago but still stalled in court — covers some 7.5 million guns, including the popular Model 700 rifle and a dozen other firearms with similar designs. CNBC first reported in a 2010 documentary about allegations that for decades the company covered up a design defect that allows the guns to fire without the trigger being pulled. Lawsuits have linked the alleged defect to at least two-dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Remington has steadfastly denied the allegations, even though it has agreed to replace the triggers free of charge on most of the guns. Under language in the proposed settlement, the company continues to maintain that the guns are safe and free of defects. That provision of the deal is particularly irksome to critics, who say it is designed to convince owners not to submit their guns for repair, reducing the cost to Remington.

Notices sent to gun owners thus far "not only downplayed the potential danger, but undermined any sense of urgency to take action and repair their rifle," according to an objection filed on behalf of Lewis Frost of Harahan, Louisiana, and Richard Denney of Norman, Oklahoma, who each own three Model 700 rifles.

"Clearly, the not so subtle message is that 'your gun is safe; don't waste your time or part with your gun for purposes of this meritless defect claim by greedy lawyers'," the filing said.

Attorneys for Remington and class action plaintiffs did not respond to emails seeking a comment. The plaintiffs' lawyers stand to collect $12.5 million in fees if the settlement is approved.

The U.S. District Judge overseeing the class action case, Ortrie D. Smith of Kansas City, Missouri, has already expressed skepticism about the deal. Last December, hours after a CNBC follow-up investigation uncovered more internal Remington documents discussing the alleged defect, Smith ordered the parties to come up with a more effective plan to notify the public about the trigger replacement offer.

In response, the parties added nationwide radio ads and a social media component to the campaign. As of August, before the enhanced push began, only about 6,500 claims out of 7.5 million guns had been filed, according to court filings. The parties have not provided any updates on the response rate since then.

In an affidavit filed as part of Frost and Denney's objection, Philadelphia-based consultant Todd Hilsee — an expert in class action claims notices — argues that even with the enhanced campaign, 95 percent of the guns in question will not be repaired.

Also criticizing the settlement — his first formal objection to the deal — is Richard Barber, a Montana man whose nine-year-old son was killed in 2000 when he says a Remington Model 700 fired unexpectedly during a family hunting trip. The Barber family reached a wrongful death settlement with Remington in 2002, and Barber initially served as a paid consultant to the plaintiffs in the class action case. But he said he resigned in 2014 after the plaintiffs joined Remington in asking Judge Smith to seal the very documents Barber had uncovered to bolster their case.

"This alleged maneuver would render me and my research useless and would forever protect Remington's darkest secrets from ever being exposed," Barber wrote in a 40-page letter filed with the court on Friday.

Smith ultimately denied the joint request for a so-called protective order. Last week, the advocacy group Public Justice published thousands of the documents in an online database.

Of particular concern to Barber is a class of discontinued Remington guns that are also covered under the class action settlement but are ineligible for a trigger replacement. Some 250,000 of the guns are still on the market, including models 600, 660, Mohawk 600, and the XP-100 bolt-action pistol. Remington claims the guns, produced between 1962 and 1982, are too old to be retrofitted, and is instead offering owners a $12.50 product voucher.

Barber said the provision ignores the fact that Remington previously recalled the guns in 1978 over the same safety issues, and remains obligated to fix them. He alleged Remington and the plaintiffs in the class action case deliberately hid that information from Judge Smith, and said Remington should face penalties as a result.

"I am requesting this court to sanction Remington and its counsel for their willful disregard for the integrity of the courts generally and to attempt to defile your court to secure the proposed settlement by use of alleged fraudulent statements," Barber wrote.

Remington and plaintiffs lawyers have not yet responded to Barber's allegations.

The parties have until Jan. 17 to submit any proposed changes to the settlement agreement. Judge Smith has scheduled a hearing Feb. 14 to consider final approval.

Customers interested in taking advantage of the trigger replacement offer can learn more about how to file a claim by visiting a special website run by a third-party claims administrator.

The tentative settlement involves Remington Models 700, Seven, Sportsman 78, 673, 710, 715, 770, 600, 660, XP-100, 721, 722, and 725.\

CORRECTION

This report has been updated to reflect that the Public Justice database includes many but not all of Remington's internal documents concerning allegedly defective guns.