Injuries: If you suffered injuries after shooting a Remington model 700, you may have a claim for compensation.
Dozens of injured hunters and grieving families have filed lawsuits against Remington, claiming the gun manufacturer’s 700 rifle has a defective trigger.
Despite a recall for more than 7.85 million rifles, Remington continues to deny that its Walker Trigger Assembly is defective. Our injury attorneys can help.
In production for 55 years, the Remington Model 700 has become the world’s most popular bolt-action rifle, CNBC reports, selling over 5 million models for the North Carolina-based arms manufacturer.
Here is the 60 minute special on the Remington 700, that aired on 2/19/2017: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/the-remington-700
But as thousands of hunters and target shooters have learned, Remington’s successful rifle may be marred by a serious safety defect. Dozens of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits claim that the gun’s trigger assembly is defective, allowing the rifle to fire without a trigger pull. Hundreds of injuries and at least two dozen deaths have been linked to Remington’s Walker trigger assembly, a firing mechanism first introduced to the public nearly 69 years ago.
Remington, on the other hand, continues to maintain that the Walker trigger assembly is safe. Previously-confidential court documents tell a different story. In 2014, the company agreed to settle a massive class action lawsuit, in which Remington gun owners argued that the allegedly-defective trigger had made their fire arms worthless. While the settlement agreement has yet to be approved by the Court, unsealed case documents published by Public Justice appear to reveal the damning truth behind Remington’s decades-long effort to hide the Model 700’s serious defects.
Over the last 70 years, Remington executives repeatedly fought over whether the rifle should be recalled entirely. Thousands of gun owners submitted complaints about unintentional firings, results corroborated by Remington’s internal testing. Numerous company engineers, including the Walker assembly’s original inventor, proposed safer trigger designs.
These measures, however, which safety advocates say could have saved dozens of lives, were never implemented. Instead, the company chose to settle personal injury lawsuits quietly, paying out millions of dollars to gun owners and families in confidential settlements.
Remington’s class action settlement is offering free repairs to many gun owners. It does not cover cases involving personal injury or death. Gun owners and families who have been harmed by one of Remington’s allegedly-defective rifles are filing individual lawsuits against the company, pursuing substantial financial compensation. Dozens of Remington lawsuits have already been filed over severe injuries, along with wrongful death claims involving the loss of a loved one.
The Walker trigger assembly, first introduced to the American market in 1948, features a unique design. In order to eliminate trigger shock and decrease the trigger’s movement, the Walker fire control system is outfitted with a “trigger connector.” Held in place by a single spring, the trigger connector supports the assembly’s sear, which holds the firing pin steady until the trigger is pulled.
At least, that’s the trigger connector’s function in theory. In practice, some experts say that using a separate trigger connector makes the Walker fire control unreasonably dangerous. Since the connector isn’t actually attached to the trigger, the two pieces can separate, creating a gap for moisture, lubricants, debris and manufacturing artifacts to collect. This can throw off the alignment between the trigger and sear, meaning that, under certain circumstances, the rifle could fire without the trigger ever being pulled.
Remington learned very early that the Walker fire control group could pose a “very dangerous” situation. As W.E. Leek, a Remington Test Engineer, wrote in 1947, “there is evidence […] that the Connector, Safety Cam and Sear are not within design limits. This situation can be very dangerous from a safety and functional point of view.” Leek noted several instances in which a rifle had been made to fire simply by pushing the safety to its “off” position.
Before the Walker trigger assembly was ever put into use, the firing mechanism’s own inventor, Merle “Mike” Walker, had already become worried about the trigger’s safety. In fact, Walker proposed what he considered a “safer” trigger while the firing mechanism that would ultimately take his name was still in testing. His revised design, along with two other proposed solutions, were rejected by Remington executives over cost concerns, a fact only revealed when Walker’s taped court depositions were released in 2015.
Despite its inventor’s unease, the Walker trigger assembly was introduced to the public in March 1948, as a component of Remington’s Model 721. Only six months later, the company had already been notified of three incidents in which the rifle’s safety had malfunctioned, allowing the gun to fire while the safety was moved to its “off” position. While Remington executives noted that, in light of customer complaints, the company’s “potential liability” had been “somewhat” increased, Model 721 would stay on the market for decades. Likewise, the Walker trigger assembly remained in use, without any substantial changes, for another 58 years.
Remington’s knowledge of potential safety issues, however, did not end in 1948.
Nearly five years later, a member of the company’s Arms Research and Development Division noted the results of a study on Model 721’s quality and endurance, which found a 2% malfunction rate. As S.M. Alvis, then-Manager of Remington’s Arms Division, wrote, “we believe that everyone will agree that a 2% malfunction rate in a bolt action gun of this type is too high.”
Even so, the Walker fire control wasn’t discontinued. Soon, even Remington dealers were submitting their own fixes to the company. On June 18, 1957, a Mr. Shorten of Weatherford, Texas sent Remington his own modified version of the Walker trigger and gear assembly, now featured in both 721 and 722 rifles. Mr. Shorten, an “outside inventor” and operator of the Shorten Gun Shop, had already adjusted several Remington rifles for customers who said their guns had fired “when the bolt was closed or the safety was released.” Shorten’s refashioned trigger assembly was forwarded to the desk of S.M. Alvis, but there is no information on whether or not Remington’s Manager of Arms Research and Development ever considered the potential solution.
In the following years, Remington’s Walker trigger assembly became one of the company’s go-to options for new fire arms. When the Model 700 bolt-action rifle was introduced in 1962, it featured a Walker firing mechanism, the same trigger that thousands of owners across the country say allows the gun to fire without a trigger pull. The Model 700 was a resounding success for Remington, and continues to outsell every other bolt-action rifle on the market.
Today, Remington calls the Model 700 “America’s favorite bolt-action of all time.” A modified version of the Model 700 has served as the US Army’s standard sniper rifle since 1988. The Marine Corps’ M40 Sniper Weapon System is also an augmented Model 700. The US Border Patrol and Navy use Remington’s Model 700 rifles, as do the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and military outfits in Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia and Pakistan. Police departments across the country have come to rely on the Model 700 as well.
Surprisingly, the fire arm’s potential dangers were highlighted in popular publications early on. In a 1968 rundown of several “long-range precision” rifles, product reviewers at Consumer Reports wrote:
“the Remington 700 […] exhibited a potentially dangerous flaw as first tested. There was so little clearance between the trigger and the trigger guard that when the trigger was pulled with the safety on (something you or a friend might do when sighting down the rifle or trying it for feel), the trigger sometimes failed to return to its forward position. And with the trigger in the back position, the rifle would fire without warning the next time the safety was moved to the fire position. The malfunction persisted for more than 100 firings before the trigger wore in and performed normally. An unwary buyer might have caused a serious accident by then.”
The bad press didn’t slow down Remington’s sales, though. The Model 700 bolt-action rifle ultimately became a staple among hunters, as well as military and police forces around the globe.
Within the company, however, reports of apparently-defective Model 700 rifles continued to pile up. During the 1970s, a company official named C. Prosser, who had been tasked with examining fire arms returned by customers, filed multiple reports on Model 700 rifles that had supposedly fired without a trigger pull. These internal reports, made public for the first time by Public Justice, invariably describe the examined rifles as being in “good” or “new” condition.
Prosser did find one potential problem, though: many of the rifles had begun to accumulate metal chips or shavings, which sat between the trigger connector and sear, a piece that holds the rifle’s bolt back until an appropriate amount of pressure is applied to the trigger. These bits of metal, Prosser theorized, could be causing the trigger’s to malfunction, at least in some rifles.
In 1973, Remington suffered a major setback. Australian police, acting under the authority of the country’s Department of Customs and Excise, had seized four shipments of Model 700 and 541S bolt-action rifles.
The problem, according to Australian officials, was that Remington’s fire arms were installed with an “unsafe trigger mechanism.” The authorities refused to release the rifles until Remington had addressed the problem. Shortly thereafter, every Remington Model 700 exported to Australia featured a new “trigger screw lock screw,” an additional safety measure intended to prevent inappropriate adjustments to the trigger. This change was never implemented in rifles that remained in the United States.
By 1975, Remington had established an internal classification system for failures and malfunctions that could affect the company’s rifles:
Where Model 700 was concerned, the company’s own internal testing led to much the same conclusion as had reports from customers. In one four-month period, between December 26, 1974 and April 29, 1975, Remington’s own testing teams experienced 47 separate failures involving the Model 700 rifle. In 46 of these cases, the gun had unexpectedly fired due to a problem with its safety.
Despite these test results, which seemed to confirm reports received from members of the public, Remington’s internal communications continued to deny that the Model 700 rifles, or their trigger mechanisms, had been made unsafe due to a design or manufacturing defect.
In a memo dated February 22, 1979, company gun inspector E.F. Sienkiewicz notes that “hundreds of people owning Model 700 and other model firearms have contacted Remington alleging that their guns have fired when pushing the safety from on safe to off safe position without touching the trigger.” Upon examination, however, Sienkiewicz had found no evidence of “factory defects.” Instead, every problem was due to a customer’s “tampering” with the rifle, adjusting screws, modifying the trigger or using an excessive amount of oil.
Depositions given by Derek Watkins, Remington’s Director of Research and Development, suggest otherwise. In an oral deposition taken on November 10, 2010, Watkins admitted that bolt-action rifles installed with a trigger connector had fired, in the absence of a trigger pull, between 100 and 200 times during the company’s own gallery tests.
Remington engineers soon began to experiment with various alternative trigger designs, hoping to eliminate the dangers posed by the Walker assembly’s trigger connector. One idea, cited as the “ultimate safety” by a company designer, involved a “Trigger Block,” which would prevent the trigger itself from moving until the safety was released. Another proposal would simply eliminate the trigger connector entirely, creating a solid one-piece trigger. These plans were revisited throughout the 1980s, but never implemented.
In 1982, the Walker assembly’s original inventor, Mike Walker, even pleaded with company executives, writing: “please don’t bring out a new bolt action without a fool proof safety.” Remington’s engineers continued to work on the problem, including a number of safety upgrades that replace the Model 700. By 1985, revisions to the fire control had reached the “final design stage,” according to reports from the company’s Firearms Business Team. The new design, explicitly intended to “eliminate the ‘fire on safety release’ malfunction,” never came to fruition.
All the while, Remington continued to test existing Model 700 rifles, including a series of examinations that found that a number of fire arms could be “tricked,” with the safety remaining in an intermediate position between “safe” and “fire.” Meanwhile, customer complaints piled up. In 1990, Supervisor of Remington’s Product Service Division J.A. Stekl opined in a memo that “the number of Model 700 rifles being returned to the factory because of alleged accidental firing malfunctions is constantly increasing” [emphasis added]. The previous year, a total of 170 Model 700 fire arms had been returned for examination due to various accidental firing incidents.
Nearly 50 years after the rifle was first introduced to the US market, Remington finally hired an independent laboratory to investigate the Model 700’s unintentional firing issue. The investigator commissioned by Remington, H.P. White Laboratory, reported that at least one of the examined rifles had ” ‘fired’ inadvertently with the release of the safety.”
Over the next decade, Remington would receive thousands of customer complaints involving accidental firings. Between 1992 and 2004, internal records show that the company received 3,273 such complaints – around five complaints per week. The majority involved a rifle firing on safety release.
Soon after, Remington revisited the idea of scrapping the Model 700’s trigger assembly for a safer design. In 1995, the company entered into a Fire Control Business Contract, with the express intent of “add[ing] design characteristics that enhance the safety attributes of our firearms.” After almost 50 years of consideration, it looked like Remington was finally ready to create a safer fire control, one that wouldn’t accidentally fire. There was just one catch. Implementing the new design would cost Remington between $6 to $8 per rifle. It would take another 11 years for the company to finally adopt an updated design for the Model 700’s trigger.
At the same time, Remington was busy defending itself against personal injury lawsuits. From 1993 to 2006, the company faced at least 34 lawsuits involving gun owners or bystanders who had been severely injured or killed after an alleged firing mishap. Counting both settlement agreements and court awards, the company paid out nearly $18.5 million to resolve these claims.
In 2006, the Model 700 got a new trigger. Equipped with a “Safety Pivoted Link,” the assembly was designed to block movement in both the trigger and the sear, preventing the possibility of a misfire when the gun’s safety is released. In effect, Remington had finally heeded the advice given by Mike Walker, the trigger’s inventor, back in 1948.
But Remington’s new trigger, the X-Mark Pro, has its own problems. As the company announced in 2014, every Model 700 and Model Seven installed with an X-Mark Pro (XMP) trigger manufactured between May 1, 2006 and April 9, 2014 jas been recalled. Apparently, the trigger’s manufacturing process created a risk of unintentional discharge. A Remington investigation discovered that some X-Mark Pro triggers had been assembled using too much bonding agent.
While the company maintains that X-Mark Pro trigger assemblies are not defective in design, NBC reports that the company “admits” that some Model 700 and Model Seven bolt-action rifles “may have a manufacturing defect that could cause them to fire without a trigger pull.” Remington has offered a free repair to every owner of a recalled rifle.
Remington’s settlement agreement, which has yet to be approved, is extremely complicated. In most cases, gun owners will be eligible for a free repair, in which their fire arm’s trigger assembly will be replaced. The settlement covers a myriad of fire arms, including some models that have already been covered by previous recalls issued by Remington:
Some affected fire arms are considered too old to retrofit with new trigger assemblies. In these cases, owners will receive a voucher code toward future purchases in Remington’s online store:
As we mentioned, the settlement has not yet been approved. The settlement’s final approval hearing is scheduled for 1 pm on February 14, 2017 in Courtroom 8C of the Charles Evans Whittaker Courthourse in Kansas City, Missouri. If approved on that date, gun owners will have another 18 months to file a Claim Form and receive their benefits.
Remington manufacturers' website: Product Safety Warning and Recall Notice