Remington rifle settlement, including free trigger replacement, is official 

Key Points
  • Owners of some 7.5 million Remington firearms, including the Model 700 rifle, now have 18 months to file a claim.
  • A class action suit alleged the guns can fire without the trigger being pulled, though the company still maintains they are safe.
  • CNBC investigated allegations, denied by Remington, that the company covered up the alleged defect for decades.
The Remington 700 trigger mechanism
Brandon Ancil | CNBC

A landmark class action settlement involving some of Remington's most popular firearms has officially gone into effect, after critics of the agreement declined to take their case to the Supreme Court by a Tuesday deadline, according to an attorney for the plaintiffs.

That means that millions of owners of the iconic Model 700 rifle — and a dozen Remington models with similar designs — have 18 months to file claims for a free replacement of their guns' allegedly defective triggers. The guns have been linked in lawsuits to dozens of accidental deaths and hundreds of serious injuries, though Remington still maintains they are safe.

"Anyone with one of these guns should take advantage of this opportunity to get the trigger fixed," said Eric D. Holland, a lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the class action case. "I've encouraged everyone to put these guns away. Don't use these guns. Make the claims now."

A special website has been set up with information on how to file a claim, and there is also a toll-free hotline, 1-800-876-5940.

Attorneys for Remington did not respond to an email seeking a comment.

In the past, the company has said it was settling the class action case in order to avoid protracted litigation. Earlier this year, Remington — the nation's oldest gun manufacturer — filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing declining sales. The company has since reorganized and emerged from bankruptcy with the settlement still intact.

The effective date of the settlement comes almost exactly eight years after CNBC first explored allegations that Remington engaged in a decades-long coverup of a defect that allows the guns to fire without the trigger being pulled.

Remington said the guns have been safe since they were first produced. But the 2010 documentary "Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation" uncovered internal company documents showing engineers warning of a "theoretical unsafe condition" even before the trigger design went on the market in 1948. The company repeatedly decided against modifying the design or launching a recall, even as accidents and customer complaints continued to pile up.

The milestone also comes 18 years after the death of 9-year-old Gus Barber, killed in a hunting accident in Montana on Oct. 23, 2000. The boy's mother said her Model 700 rifle went off as she was unloading it, with her finger away from the trigger. Unbeknownst to the family, Gus had run behind a horse trailer, directly into the path of the bullet. The family eventually settled a wrongful death claim against Remington for an undisclosed amount.

Soon after Gus' death, his father, Richard Barber, made it his life's work to find answers about Remington and its products, gathering thousands of internal company documents, many of which have been published online. Barber served as a consultant to the plaintiffs in the class action case, but he resigned after concluding that the attorneys were not pressing the company hard enough.

"I'd like to believe that I have a part in getting to this time and place in history," Barber said in an interview. "I would like to believe that 15 years of my painstaking work in my detailed analysis of Remington's documents, putting the pieces of the puzzle together, made a difference in my son's memory."

Barber has been critical of the settlement, which he says is "built on a lie" — namely, Remington's continued claim that the guns are safe. But he is still urging gun owners to take advantage of the trigger replacement offer, even if it means sending their guns in for repairs just as peak fall hunting season begins.

"Why would somebody take a chance endangering the lives of their family members and friends, just because it may inconvenience them, that they may have to use a different rifle," he said.

Staking a claim

The settlement covers an estimated 7.5 million guns dating back to 1948. In addition to the Model 700 rifle, the agreement covers Remington bolt-action rifle models Seven, Sportsman 78, 673, 710, 715, 770, 600, 660, 721, 722, 725, and the XP-100 bolt action pistol. Plaintiffs' attorneys note that the settlement only covers economic losses from ownership of the allegedly defective guns. Other claims alleging personal injury or wrongful death can still go forward.

In most cases under the class action settlement, owners will be able to send or bring their guns to Remington or an authorized service center, where they will be retrofitted with a new trigger free of charge. There is no word on how long the repairs will take. However, Remington says some older models, specifically the 600, 660, 721, 722, 725, and XP-100, are too old to retrofit. In those cases, Remington will supply a product voucher worth as little as $10.

That aspect of the settlement was particularly irksome to some critics, who disputed Remington's claim that the guns were too old to repair. In the case of the 600 and 660, which date back to the 1960s, Remington launched a voluntary recall — which remains in effect — in 1979. Even though the models do not qualify for a new trigger under the class action settlement, they are still eligible under the 1979 voluntary recall, which remains on Remington's website.

"I still feel that they're obligated to fix them," Barber said.

Barber and other critics alleged that Remington deliberately downplayed the settlement in order to reduce the number of claims and save money. And they alleged that plaintiffs' attorneys were more interested in the $12.5 million in fees they stand to collect under the settlement than they are in notifying gun owners of the trigger replacement offer, which the attorneys denied.

In court, the critics attacked the settlement's framework for notifying the public, which included a national radio campaign, as well as internet and direct mail advertisements. But a federal appeals panel rejected the arguments that the notice plan was inadequate. To date, Holland said, some 30,000 customers have filed claims, and he expects that number to rise now that the settlement has taken effect.

"We are convinced, as have all levels of the courts that have looked at this been convinced, that people have gotten the word," he said. "We've engaged in what I would call really state-of-the-art notice."

Public must act

Under the settlement, Remington is not required to do anything beyond the campaigns that were already carried out in 2015 and 2016 to notify the public about the trigger replacement offer, though a link to the settlement site remains on the company's website. Remington is also entitled to continue claiming that the guns are safe, which is infuriating to people like Richard Barber.

"They're in essence creating a fraud and violating the terms of this agreement which no one seems to want to step up and enforce," Barber said.

But Holland said Remington's continued steadfast insistence that the guns are safe is an indication of how difficult it would have been to win the class action case had it gone to trial. He said it was better to settle the case than to fight years for an admission or judgment that might never have occurred.

"Both sides had things to talk about just like in any settlement, but here I believe Remington did the right thing," he said. "They stepped up and they offered a trigger to anyone who has one of the many, many thousands, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of guns that are still out there. And I encourage people to get those guns fixed."

Barber agrees it is now up to the public to act.

"I'm done opposing the settlement. I've done my best, and I can't do anymore," he said. "The focus needs to be on education, and people getting their guns fixed free of charge."

Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation
Remington Under Fire: A CNBC Investigation