Remington Knew Long Ago of Rifle Defects, New Docs Show

The Product Safety & Liability Reporter™ provides updates on significant developments and issues in product safety and liability litigation and regulation, plus analysis from top litigators. Get...

By Steven M. Sellers and Martina Barash

Nov. 16 — Remington has known for decades that one of its most popular rifles has a defective trigger mechanism that may allow unintended discharges, according to previously sealed court documents released by Public Justice Nov. 15.

The Remington Arms Co., which has been enmeshed in litigation over the trigger mechanism on 7.5 million of its Model 700 rifles, knew about the defect since the 1940s, according to the documents and Public Justice, a consumer advocacy organization.

“These documents show that Remington knew this trigger was defective in the 1940s, sold these rifles with the defective trigger for decades, tested the trigger and repeatedly found that it failed,” Public Justice Chairman Arthur H. Bryant told Bloomberg BNA.

Throughout that time, Remington “denied that, kept selling the guns, kept settling cases, and people kept dying,” Bryant said.

Plaintiffs contend that more than 140 related lawsuits involving serious injury or death have been filed against the company.

Remington and attorneys for Remington couldn’t be reached for comment.

1947: ‘Very Dangerous.’

The company was aware of a problem as early as 1947, when one of its engineers reported that the trigger mechanism was “not within design limits” and could be “very dangerous from a safety and functional point of view,” according to the records.

Patrick McCafferty, a Missouri gun owner, wrote to Remington in 1954 that his rifle had accidentally discharged more than once and that the malfunction was “obviously a defect or workmanship or material” that was “extremely dangerous and could be lethal,” according to the records.

Gunsmiths recommended solutions to the malfunctions beginning in the 1950s and Remington “verified” 133 customer complaints between 1979 and 1980, the records show, and noted that referrals of Model 700 rifles were “constantly increasing” in 1990.

And between 1992 and 2004, Remington received 3,273 customer complaints of unintended firings of the rifles, according to internal memos.

The company also reported that it had paid out more than $18 million to settle defect-related lawsuits between 1993 and 2006.

The trigger assembly was replaced in 2006, adopting a fix first suggested in 1948.

Fighting Hard

“Even today, Remington is publicly denying the truth,” Bryant said. In response to a 2010 CNBC report on the rifles, Remington produced a “counter-documentary” saying that the trigger was safe and that Remington had never had the rifle fail in repeated testing, Bryant said.

The gunmaker has repeatedly fought to keep its internal documents about the defects out of court.

As recently as August, Remington moved for a protective order in Massachusetts Superior Court contesting a demand by that state’s attorney general to produce documents pertaining to customer firearm and ammunition recalls.

The demand violates customer privacy, chills Second Amendment rights and “substantially interferes with Remington’s business and customer good will,” the company asserts in the court filing.

A request for comment by the Massachusetts Attorney General wasn’t successful Nov. 16.

Huge Volume

Over 133,000 documents were released by Public Justice, based in Washington, D.C. They come from lawsuits filed against Remington and were obtained with help from the plaintiffs’ attorney in a class action, Pollard v. Remington Arms Co. (W.D. Mo., No. 4:13-cv-00086), according to the organization’s website.

Public Justice obtained access to the documents in October 2015, according to letters posted together with the documents.

“We’ve been working to isolate the key documents” and create PowerPoints and timelines, Bryant said. The total number of unsealed documents was much greater, he said.

Owners of the rifles should stop using them and file a claim in a proposed class action settlement to get them fixed or replaced, Public Justice said in a statement.

‘Secrecy Kills.’

Bryant said, “These Remington documents show that secrecy kills, literally.”

“Courts and plaintiffs and their lawyers have to stop allowing court secrecy when it’s not justified,” he said.

Robert Farago, publisher of a pro-gun blog which reviews guns called “The Truth About Guns,” told Bloomberg BNA he had heard Remington knew of the defect. But he didn’t know the company’s knowledge went so far back, he said.

“Being drop-safe is a low standard” for a gun, he said. “Remington has taken a knock.” But the Model 700 has a good reputation otherwise, he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Martina Barash at MBarash@bna.com; Steven M. Sellers in Washington, D.C. at ssellers@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.