A class-action lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal court in Montana against gun manufacturer Remington Arms Company, claiming that it knew since the 1940s that its Model 700 rifle had a faulty mechanism that allowed the gun to discharge without a trigger pull, but failed to notify the public of the defect.
This lawsuit, filed by Richard Ramler on behalf of Eric Huleatt and Allen Bowker, is different than previous lawsuits filed in the state because it’s not focusing on allegations that the plaintiffs were seriously injured or killed by their gun’s misfiring.
Instead, Ramler writes that Remington knew the Model 700 rifles were defective, yet the company failed to warn people who purchased the weapon, failed to remedy the situation and required gun owners to pay a fee for both shipping and a replacement trigger once they notified Remington of the defect.
The gun maker “put profit over the health and safety of the public,” Ramler wrote in the lawsuit.
Ramler said this is the fourth class-action lawsuit filed against Remington in recent years. Others were filed in Florida, Washington and Missouri.
“Our goal is to try to have those rifles recalled and the firing control or trigger mechanism replaced with a safe mechanism, so it won’t fire without the trigger being pulled,” Ramler said. “We’re trying to provide notice to the public because these guns are dangerous.
“This isn’t about an individual injury … this is about a defective rifle.”
Along with the Remington Arms Co., Ramler named E.I. DuPont DeNemours and Co., and Sporting Goods Properties as defendants. DuPont owned all of Remington’s stock before 1993 and Sporting Goods Properties is the name by which Remington is now known.
The plaintiffs want Remington to acknowledge the defect in the Model 700 bolt-action rifles that carry the Walker Fire Control and that they knew about it; recall the guns and fix them; and enter an award to Huleatt and Bowker, as well as any other Montanan who joins the class-action lawsuit, for compensatory, punitive and statutory damages. It also seeks any of the “ill-gotten profits” from the sales of the gun to be disbursed among the plaintiffs.
Remington’s attorney, Dale Wills, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday. However, in previous lawsuits the company claims that misuse or abuse of the rifle by its handler has caused any alleged malfunctions. In a written statement for a CNBC documentary about possible defects with the Model 700, Remington stated that “the gun’s use by millions of Americans has proven it to be a safe, trusted and reliable rifle.”
According to the most recent lawsuit, Remington developed the patented Walker Fire Control mechanism and introduced it in 1948. The firing mechanism is found in more than 5 million Remington firearms. But Ramler writes that even before their use, an internal inspection in 1947 found dangerous design flaws with the Walker Fire Control trigger assembly.
“The rifles will fire without a trigger pull under a variety of circumstances due to the faulty design,” Ramler wrote. “All of the Model 700 rifles are defective and unreasonably dangerous.
“Despite decades of knowledge related to the dangerous conditions of the Model 700 rifles, defendants never issued an adequate warning or recall of the Model 700 rifles. Remington continues to falsely represent to the public that the rifles are safe and reliable.”
He notes that the Model 600 series also incorporated the basic Walker Fire Control design, and it was only after one of the largest settlements ever awarded at the time to an accident victim by a firearm manufacturer’s insurance carrier in 1978 that Remington recalled those firearms. In that case, Remington agreed to pay $6.8 million to an Illinois man who was paralyzed from the waist down in a hunting accident.
The Walker Fire Control is still used in the Model 700 rifles.
Huleatt, who lives in Missoula County, purchased his Remington in 2000. Bowker, a Roosevelt County resident, bought his in 2006. Both said they did so believing it was a reliable, high-quality firearm.
Ramler wrote that Bowker contacted Remington in 2010 after watching the CNBC documentary that outlined alleged defects with the Model 700.
“Bowker was told by a Remington representative that there was nothing wrong or defective with this rifle or any of the Model 700 rifles,” Ramler wrote.
Yet Bowker was closing the bolt on his firearm one day and the rifle allegedly “suddenly and unexpectedly fired” without a trigger pull.
Ramler said that the defendants acknowledged receiving 3,273 customer complaints about the Model 700 firing without a trigger pull between 1992 and 2004.
“This is an average of almost five unintended firings per week for this 12-year period,” Ramler wrote.
He said that Remington engineers first started developing alternate designs for a trigger block in 1948, but that it cost too much — $21,380 — to make the conversion, which would have added about five cents then to the cost of the rifle. Ramler wrote that according to internal Remington documents, they considered a recall of the Model 700 in 1978, but with 2 million already sold, it was deemed too expensive.
He said that in 1994, after a jury rendered a $17 million verdict against Remington because of Model 700 defects, the company again questioned its safety, according to internal documents.
“At that time, Remington accountants determined that if only 30 percent of its customers actually returned the rifles as part of a nationwide recall of the Model 700 rifles, it would cost Remington $22 million to conduct the recall,” Ramler wrote. “Remington decided against the proposed recall.”
According to Ramler, more than 140 lawsuits have been filed against Remington involving serious injuries or death, including at least three lawsuits in Montana.
In one of the Montana cases, Richard Barber’s family settled with Remington for an undisclosed amount after his 9-year-old son Gus was killed when his mother moved the safety on her Model 700 to the off position in order to unload her rifle and the gun went off. The company also agreed to the family’s request for a safety modification program, but Ramler alleges that only addresses one of the issues with the Model 700’s unexpected firings.
The newest lawsuit asserts Remington is guilty of strict liability for its failure to warn about the design defect; negligence; violation of the Magnuson-Moss Act, which says retailers must comply with warranties; breach of both expressed and implied warranties; fraudulent concealment; and unjust enrichment.