Previously sealed, internal documents indicate Remington Arms knew the Walker Fire Control was unsafe, yet continued to manufacture and equip rifles with the defective trigger assembly anyway.
That information came after 133,000 documents were made public in a searchable online database by the non-profit group Public Justice. Engaged in a year long battle to unlock the documents, the organization that fights for social justice and rallies against “predatory corporate conduct” won their case and released the files online Tuesday.
“These documents show the extreme danger of court secrecy,” Public Justice Chairman Arthur Bryant told CNBC. “They prove that court secrecy kills. Literally.”
Between 1993 and 2006, Remington paid more than $18 million in settlements and judgements regarding the defective Walker design that allows a gun to fire if jarred or bumped. With an estimated 7.5 million Remington rifles affected by the flawed design, the company publicly maintains that unintentional discharges have been user error. However, internal documents dating back to as early as 1947 tell a different tale.
“The gun may accidentally fire when you move the safety from the ‘safe’ position to the ‘fire’ position, or when you close the bolt,” the warning says. Remington decided against the proposed notice, rejecting it because the wording seemed “too strong.” That notice never left the company.
In addition, Remington officials also rejected several internal proposals to recall the guns, even after their own field testing showed the issues surrounding the design.
The trove of documents were compiled by Richard Barber, a Montana father whose 9-year-old son was fatally shot by a Model 700 during a family hunting trip in 2000. Barber says at the time of the accident, the trigger was clear of any obstructions. The Barber family sued Remington in 2002 and since has fought to have internal documents released to the public.
“This information has been buried while people profit from the pain and suffering of families like mine,” Barber said in an interview with CNBC. He added. “This information is a living memorial to my son, Gus. I hope these educational resources will break the cycle of injury and death.”
Critics, to include Public Justice, say its routine for companies to abuse protective orders to hide information about dangerous and defective products from consumers. The judge presiding over the Remington lawsuit denied the routine protective order that would have kept the Remington information sealed.
“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,” wrote U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith on Dec. 3, 2014.
The quiet gesture allowed Public Justice to swoop in and take action, pushing Remington to release every protective order on every bolt-action rifle case ever filed. The group hopes this ultimately leads parties in other cases to agree to more transparency.
“Hopefully, it will make plaintiffs, their lawyers, and judges understand why they cannot and should not agree to unjustified court secrecy in the future,” Bryant said.
Remington has been embroiled in a nationwide class action lawsuit against the Walker Fire Control since 2014. Though they continue to hold steadfast to the party line that it’s user error and not their firearms, the company did agree to replace the triggers in the Model 700 and a dozen other firearms with similar designs.
A federal judge in Kanas City has set the deadline for objections in that class action suit for today with a final hearing scheduled for Feb. 14.