Remington settlement approved despite concerns with low claims rate

Despite concerns over low participation in a product recall, a federal judge approved a settlement agreement for a class action suit against Remington Arms for manufacturing millions of rifles tied to a deadly defect.

The public saw in the case a chance for retribution for the millions of Remington rifles equipped with a trigger design linked to numerous deaths and injuries.

The iconic gun maker will payout more than $12.5 million, according to the opinion signed by U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith.

That final tally breaks down into $12.5 million for attorneys representing the class, but they must subtract $474,893 for costs and expenses by the plaintiffs. And then each class representative will receive $2,500.

Costs to retrofit the firearms with a new trigger could be considerably larger because of the more than 7.5 million rifles in circulation. Initial estimates — devised by the number of models multiplied by the cost to retrofit — put the total possible cost at $488 million.

However, Smith reiterated his concern with the low number of claims. In the two years after entering settlement negotiations, only 22,000 owners filed claims.

Nine state attorneys general filed a brief in January saying that the low number of claims will do little to prevent future accidents. With a 0.29 percent claims rate, that leaves about 7.48 million possibly defective rifles in circulation, and absolves Remington of wrongdoing for around $1.4 million.

Yet, both attorneys representing the class and Remington expressed satisfaction over the results. For the final decision, the court adopted their arguments for moving forward.

According to the opinion, with such a large number of rifles circulating in commerce, it’s impossible to determine how many potential class members exist “because a class member could own more than one firearm or a firearm could have been destroyed or owned by someone outside the United States.”

“While the Court remains disappointed with the claims rate, the claims rate does not dictate whether the notice provided was the best notice practicable under the circumstances,” the opinion says. “The claims rate does not govern whether the settlement is fair, reasonable, or adequate.”

The opinion explains Remington satisfied the court in its attempt to generate claims. Over the course of two years, the gun maker launched a website, a social media campaign, sent out email alerts and direct mailers, notices to retailers to display, and ran radio ads.

“In sum, the components of the notice plan were each reasonable methods of communicating with potential class members,” the opinion says, adding that a claims period will run for the next 18 months and will likely increase that claims rate.

While this settlement marks a milestone in the litigious history for Remington, owners of the Model 700 who do not file a claim could still sue the gun maker.

The infamous trigger design, called the Walker Fire Control, has been a feature on Remington Model 700 rifle since the 1960s. The flawed design has been linked to numerous accidental discharges as dust or debris could allow the rifle to fire without the pull of a trigger.

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