By Greg Webb, Jan. 19, 2016**
A class-action settlement involving roughly 7.5 million (allegedly) defective Remington rifles has been delayed to give both parties a chance to come up with a better way to inform the public of dangers. The Remington Model 700 rifle has a safety-related design defect which causes the rifle to fire without anyone pulling the trigger. Not exactly what you want from a firearm.
There have been deaths and injuries tied to this defect as far back as the late 1960’s. The lawsuits filed against Remington over the past decades have been, for the most part, protected by strict privacy rulings that kept all Remington in-house documents from the public. As U. S. District Judge Ortrie Smith, of Missouri, however, was deciding to push the class-action case back to February, CNBC released a story on its investigation into allegations about the defective trigger.
Remington insists that there is no trigger defect but is nonetheless offering to replace the triggers, at no charge, in millions of rifles. This would simplify the pending settlement. The problem is that only 2,327 gun owners have submitted claims for the new trigger so far —leaving the bulk of the 7 million plus guns in owners’ hands who may, or may not, know about the defective trigger and the free ‘fix’.
Remington, which legally withheld documents about the safety features and possible defects for decades, must now find a way to alert gun owners while maintaining its stance that the trigger is not defective.
Remington has said it is agreeing to retrofit the rifles, “to avoid the uncertainties and expense of protracted litigation, and to ensure continued satisfaction for its valuable customers.” As Arthur Bryant, Chairman of the watchdog group Public Justice notes, “These rifles can fire when no one pulls the trigger. The proposed settlement would let over 7 million people get them repaired or replaced for free. As many gun owners as possible need to learn these rifles are dangerously defective, stop using them, and file a claim to get them repaired or replaced for free. Every claim filed is a potential life saved.” (CNBC.com, 1/12/16)
The release of thousands of internal documents from Remington reveals much about the internal workings of the company as it struggled to deal with the serious safety defect. The documents show meeting notes from 1989 indicating that Remington had knowledge of the defective trigger. It would take 17 years before the company addressed the trigger on its Model 700—after thousands of complaints and approximately 100 additional lawsuits. There have been multiple deaths blamed on the trigger. Why did it take so long?
The delay in the legal case, paired with the release of these old documents, may give critics additional ammunition (no pun intended) to strengthen the case against Remington. Critics want the gun manufacturer to take stronger action in notifying rifle owners and replacing the defective triggers. With less than 3,000 out of 7 million gun owners filing claims, it is a valid concern. It is hard to imagine that any owner of one of these dangerously defective rifles would not want it repaired free of charge.
The judge in the case signaled his intent not to let Remington push for a protective order, effectively sealing (hiding) the contents of the case—something the company has successfully done for decades. “There is a strong public interest in not allowing the Court’s orders to be used as a shield that precludes disclosure of this danger,” Smith wrote in an order late last year denying a joint motion by Remington and the plaintiffs for a protective order in the class-action case. (CNBC.com, 1/12/16)
It is not clear how the case will proceed, or what will result from the disclosure of these documents. What we do know is that Remington and one-time owner DuPont were aware of the defect and were able to replicate the defect through internal testing—something Remington had previously denied in lawsuits. The documents show an all too familiar focus on saving money (a common corporate theme of profits over safety) and avoiding any appearance of admitting to manufacturing faulty, dangerous products or wrongdoing.
“What is essential for this case to really succeed is a massive campaign if the settlement is approved, after the settlement is approved, so everyone understands how dangerous these guns are, and files a claim,” Bryant says. (CNBC.com, 12/08/15)
The settlement covers the following Remington firearms: The Model 700, Seven, Sportsman 78, 673, 710, 715, 770, 600, 660, 721, 722, and 725 rifles, and the XP-100 bolt-action pistol. (CNBC.com, 1/12/16) If you own one of these defective guns, Remington has a website discussing the firearms involved and the claims process.
Something important to note here is that Remington did not voluntarily come to the table, admitting its sins and offering repentance, repair and restitution. Nor was Remington brought to the table by the government – a regulatory agency. Remington has agreed to retrofit and repair millions of its firearms because the tort system forced it to do so. The ability of citizens to access the civil justice system, and to have the right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment, brought Remington to the table. This is one of many great examples of the success of our country’s tort system. Generally, the only people seeking tort “reform” are those being held accountable for harming us because they want immunity. So, when a reader hears about how badly we need “tort reform”, keep this case in mind. There are very few countries in which a solitary citizen, or a small group of them, can force a corporate giant to make change.
**This article also appears on the MichieHamlett Law Firm website: www.michiehamlett.com