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Attorneys general from several states and the District of Columbia are asking a federal appeals court to overturn a landmark class action settlement involving millions of allegedly defective Remington rifles, because they say the agreement does not go far enough.
The settlement, approved by a federal judge in Kansas City in March, is aimed at fixing some 7.5 million Remington firearms, including the iconic Model 700 rifle. A 2010 CNBC documentary investigated allegations that Remington covered up a design defect that allows the guns to fire without the trigger being pulled. Remington has steadfastly denied the allegations, continues to say the guns are safe, and says the hundreds of injuries and dozens of deaths that lawsuits have linked to the alleged defect are all the result of user error.
Nonetheless, the company agreed in 2014 to replace the triggers in millions of the guns, free of charge, under the class action settlement. The company said it was settling the case to put the matter behind it once and for all. But from the start, critics have argued the settlement deliberately downplayed the risk, and would leave millions of dangerous guns in the public's hands while relieving Remington of the liability.
That is the argument in the new brief filed in the Eighth United States Circuit Court of Appeals by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey on behalf of her counterparts in New York, California, Hawaii, Maine, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington State, and the District of Columbia.
"Under the settlement, fewer than 25,000 (0.3%) of those guns will be fixed," the brief says. "The defect at issue in this settlement presents a serious and continuing public safety problem."
Two Remington Model 700 owners, Lewis Frost of Louisiana and Richard Denney of Oklahoma, formally appealed the settlement last month, saying the process to notify customers of their rights under the settlement was woefully inadequate, and that the benefits — which are as little as a $10 product voucher for some of the oldest models — were not nearly enough.
"This result cannot stand in a case involving a defective product currently in use that can kill and maim," Frost and Denney said in a court filing last month.
At the time the settlement was approved, only about 22,000 gun owners had filed claims to get their guns retrofitted, a process that is on hold because of the appeal.
But an attorney for the class action plaintiffs, Eric Holland of St. Louis, said the number of claims have grown to 28,641 as of June 27. In an e-mail to CNBC, Holland accused the attorneys general of having a hidden agenda.
"If this group really cared about the people in their states, wouldn't they be dedicating their resources to educating the public about this trigger fix and encouraging claims instead of press releases, court filings, and sending people to court on the government's dime?" Holland wrote to CNBC.
Attorneys for Remington did not respond to a request for a comment from CNBC.
Remington has argued in court that the settlement is fair. Plaintiffs' attorneys, who stand to collect $12.5 million in fees under the agreement, said that despite the relatively low claims rate, the settlement should be allowed to go forward because of the lives it would potentially save.
The parties have until July 14 to respond to the appeal.