The judge who approved a landmark class action settlement in 2017 involving Remington's most popular bolt-action rifle is refusing to reopen the case despite complaints that some guns are continuing to malfunction even after they have been repaired.
The case involves Remington's iconic Model 700 rifle, which CNBC has been investigating since 2010. Lawsuits have alleged the company covered up a design flaw that allows the guns to fire without the trigger being pulled, leading to dozens of deaths and hundreds of serious injuries.
Remington has always maintained that the guns are safe and free of defects. But the company agreed in the class action settlement, reached in 2014, to replace the triggers on millions of guns, free of charge, to put an end to the litigation.
As the deadline to file a claim under the settlement approached in April, CNBC reported that several customers had complained to the company that retrofitted guns were continuing to malfunction. That prompted two Remington customers who had objected to the original settlement to go back to court and ask the judge to hold a hearing based on CNBC's reporting.
But in a three-page ruling late Friday, U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith in Kansas City, Missouri, declined.
"If an individual has a claim related to the replacement trigger mechanism, this lawsuit is not the proper avenue for such a claim," Smith wrote.
Remington had argued against reopening the case, saying that the replacement trigger mechanism known as the XMark Pro (XMP) is safe.
"The Court already has addressed the efficacy of the XMP trigger mechanism, and (CNBC)'s article provides no reason to revisit those findings," wrote Remington attorney Amy Crouch.
CNBC reviewed nearly a dozen Remington product service reports documenting similar complaints.
"I am now afraid to use this gun because of the safety issue involved," one customer wrote, saying his rifle fired when he closed the bolt after putting a round in the chamber.
Another customer noted that his gun malfunctioned only after the repairs were done.
"I never had any problem before the trigger was replaced," he wrote.
Among the customers who complained was William Cook of Columbus, Montana, who said he had his Model 700 retrofitted at a Remington authorized repair center in the summer of 2015. When he took it on a hunting trip later that year, he said the gun fired when he switched off the safety to target an elk. He said the round narrowly missed a hunting companion.
"I'm lucky I didn't blow his liver out," he said.
Crouch noted that Cook had his rifle repaired under a recall of the XMP that was announced in conjunction with the class action settlement, but he had not filed a claim under the settlement itself. She also said that the company replaced the trigger again, returned the rifle to Cook, and never heard from him again.
"If the trigger retrofit done by Remington had failed, certainly Mr. Cook would have contacted Remington, but Mr. Cook did not do so," she wrote.
But Cook had told CNBC in April that he did not want to take any more chances with the gun, so he traded it to a local gun dealer.
Attorneys for the class action plaintiffs, who shared $12.5 million in legal fees under the settlement, also argued against reopening the case. They said they had received hundreds of calls since the settlement was announced in 2014, but none involving the alleged malfunctions.
In fact, attorney Eric Holland said, the only complaints they were aware of were those cited in the CNBC report.
"To date, not one class member has contacted any of Class Counsel's firms regarding any allegations of retrofitted firearms discharging," Holland wrote.
Remington has refused to say how many complaints it has received. Its court filing only acknowledges the complaint by Cook, and it notes the company "could not duplicate Mr. Cook's concern."
And neither Remington nor plaintiffs' attorneys will say how many customers ultimately filed claims under the settlement. The last time the figure was reported to the court—in 2017—only about 22,000 claims had been filed out of some 7.5 million guns affected.
Attorneys also dismissed concerns about repairs being delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In April, CNBC contacted all 21 Remington authorized repair centers and found several either closed, operating under reduced hours, or not offering walk-in service because of local stay-at-home orders. But attorneys argued that customers were only required to file a claim by the April 23 deadline. That process, which occurred online, was unaffected by the pandemic. The judge agreed.
"The closures only prevented class members from personally delivering their firearms to the repair centers," Smith wrote.
In addition to the Model 700, the settlement covered Remington bolt-action rifle models Seven, Sportsman 78, 673, 710, 715, 770, 600, 660, 721, 722, 725, and the XP-100 bolt action pistol.