Remington fires back at rifle settlement critics

A person holds a Remington Outdoor Co. Model 700 rifle for sale at a gun store in Orem, Utah, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016.

George Frey | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A person holds a Remington Outdoor Co. Model 700 rifle for sale at a gun store in Orem, Utah, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016.

The Remington Arms Company, which is seeking court approval of a landmark class action settlement involving alleged defects in its most popular rifles, said in a series of court filings that its critics have “ulterior motives” in objecting to the deal.

In one instance, the company claimed, an objector first tried to extract more than $1 million from the company to buy his silence.

Remington has agreed to replace the triggers in millions of guns, including its popular Model 700 bolt-action rifle, to settle allegations that the guns are prone to firing without the trigger being pulled. But the company continues to maintain that the guns are safe, and that the accidents and deaths associated with the alleged defect are the result of user errors. Several gun owners have filed formal objections to the settlement as a result, alleging the company is deliberately downplaying the risks.

Remington reserved its harshest criticism for Richard Barber, a Montana man who says his nine-year-old son was killed when a Remington 700 went off during a family hunting trip in 2000. Barber has been a central figure in multiple CNBC reports about the company since 2010. Remington settled a wrongful death claim by the Barber family for an undisclosed amount in 2002, but Barber went on to amass a huge trove of internal company documents and became a sought-after expert on the alleged defect.

Barber initially served as a paid consultant to the class action plaintiffs, but resigned in early 2015. Last month, he filed a formal, 40-page objection to the proposed class action settlement citing what he called “deceitful and misleading statements” by Remington and plaintiffs’ attorneys.

But in a scathing response filed on Tuesday, Remington said Barber only objected to the settlement after first demanding that the company pay him $1.5 million, and supply him with two Remington Modular Sniper Rifles—which we found listed for sale online for $21,000 apiece—plus 4,000 rounds of ammunition. In exchange, the company claimed that Barber offered to support any class action settlement, stop making disparaging statements about the company, and destroy all of his research.

“In light of Barber’s vexatious conduct, his objections to the class action settlement should be summarily rejected,” the filing said.

In an interview, Barber acknowledged making the demands but said Remington is mischaracterizing them in an attempt to deflect attention from the real issues in the case. He said the demands were drawn up by attorneys who no longer represent him, and said he ultimately withdrew the demands after concluding that he would be “making a deal with the devil.”

Those same attorneys represent plaintiffs in the class action case, and stand to collect a portion of $12.5 million in fees if the nationwide settlement is approved.

Remington has generally been careful about publicly criticizing Barber, but after he appeared in a 2010 CNBC documentary about the rifles, the company included him and his family in a point-by-point rebuttal online. Barber sued the company in federal court for defamation. It was during settlement talks in that case in 2014 that Barber—through his attorneys—made the demands.

“You have to talk about a settlement before you go to trial,” Barber said, and he claims his attorneys pressed him to come up with a concrete proposal to present to Remington.

“The only thing this company understands is money,” he said.

Barber claimed he had second thoughts and formally withdrew the offer in an e-mail in April, 2014. But Remington cited an e-mail from one of Barber’s attorneys in July of that year reiterating his offer to destroy his document archive if the defamation case was settled.

By that point, Barber said, he was desperate to “get my life back,” and believed the company was prepared to stop claiming the guns were safe.

Remington claims Barber only dropped his demands after a federal appeals court ruled in May of 2015 that he had forfeited his right to make future claims against the company as a result of the 2002 wrongful death settlement, dismissing the case and rendering his demands moot.

Barber said he regrets making the demands, which he said he assumed were confidential. He has spoken broadly about settlement talks in the past and acknowledged them in court filings, but never volunteered details to the court or CNBC.

“I pray for forgiveness every day for the things I’ve done and left undone,” he said.

But, he added, “I believe my actions speak for themselves, and truth is still a defense.”

Specifically, Barber alleges the company and plaintiffs’ attorneys in the class action case intentionally misled the court about a particular class of Remington rifles—the Model 600—that the company claims is too old to retrofit. Owners of those rifles—several hundred thousand in all—are ineligible for a new trigger under the proposed settlement, and can only claim a $12.50 product voucher. Barber alleges the attorneys concealed the fact that Remington recalled the Model 600 in 1978 and says the company remains obligated to fix it. In its latest filing, Remington argues that the recall has been part of the court record from the beginning of the case.

U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith in Kansas City, who is overseeing the class action case, has given Barber until January 1 to file a formal response to Remington. Smith has scheduled a hearing for February 14 to consider final approval of the settlement.

Other gun owners have alleged that Remington and the plaintiffs’ attorneys have deliberately structured the settlement to discourage customers from returning their guns and reduce the cost to Remington, a charge the company and plaintiffs have denied.

But last week a Connecticut gun owner wrote to the court to complain that he has been getting the run-around when trying to return his gun, including “30-minute hold times” on Remington’s customer service line, “representatives that intentionally disconnect the line,” and a web site that is “plagued with errors.”

“I am now convinced the Remington Arms Co. is intentionally making it difficult for owners, such as me, to have our defective guns properly repaired,” wrote Paul Vigano of New Canaan.

Remington’s attorneys have not yet responded in court to the letter, and did not respond to an e-mail seeking a comment.

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