The Families of Continental Flight 3407 have won a place at the table as creditors negotiate with lawyers for Pinnacle Airlines in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York City.
U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee Elisabeth G. Gasparini earlier this week agreed to grant the estate of Ellyce M. Kausner, one of the 50 victims of the 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center, a position on the unsecured creditors committee in the bankruptcy case.
Kausner's father, John Kausner, and his lawyers will represent the Kausner estate in the case.
The move is significant for two reasons:
*The bankruptcy will, for a yet-to-be-determined time, slow the process of resolving the remaining lawsuits that Flight 3407 family members have filed against Pinnacle. That's because federal law mandates that a stay be placed on outstanding lawsuits once a company is in bankruptcy.
*It is possible that Pinnacle will use the bankruptcy to plead poverty in hopes of minimizing how much it will have to pay in damages if those remaining lawsuits go to trial. But that will be harder to do with a representative of the families heavily involved in the Pinnacle bankruptcy proceedings.
"This enables the families to keep a clear eye on the ball" as the bankruptcy case moves forward, said Hugh M. Russ III, a lawyer for Kausner and several of the other Flight 3407 families.
"And it gives the families, through John, a chance to have some say in how the assets are distributed or organized. It's not a huge say, but at least it's a limited say."
Kausner, of Clarence, has been one of the most active of the Flight 3407 family members in their fight for aviation safety legislation. In addition, he and his wife, Marilyn, have been heavily involved in planning for the Flight 3407 memorial.
Kausner could not be reached to comment Thursday.
Neither Pinnacle nor the other creditors objected to Kausner's involvement on the creditors committee. But Russ noted that while corporate creditors supported one another's efforts to join the committee, they did not actively support Kausner's appointment.
Russ said it's unusual for parties to a wrongful-death or personal-injury suit to be appointed to the creditors committee in a major bankruptcy. "It took some maneuvering and persuasion," he said.
Some of the creditors in the Pinnacle bankruptcy case have multimillion-dollar claims against the airline, which owns Colgan Air, operator of Flight 3407.
Other major creditors include:
*Bombardier Inc., which sold Pinnacle airplanes including the one used on Flight 3407.
*Continental Airlines, which contracted with Colgan to operate the flight that ended with the crash. (Continental has since merged with United Airlines.)
*The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents Pinnacle's pilots, who have been asked to agree to a 5 percent wage cut to help address the struggling regional airline's financial problems.