The families of Flight 3407 are asking a bankruptcy court judge to allow their wrongful-death lawsuits to move forward despite Pinnacle Airlines' bankruptcy case.
The families filed federal court papers in Manhattan arguing that the mandatory stay on outstanding lawsuits should be lifted because Pinnacle's insurer, not Pinnacle, is likely to be found liable for their legal claims.
The families also contend that the stay has unfairly hindered their quest for compensation that many of them now need to make ends meet.
"Many families have been waiting three years," said Hugh M. Russ III, a lawyer for several families. "Some families lost breadwinners and don't have the benefit of insurance, workers' compensation or other sources to replace their lost income."
Russ said the families' request is based on the assumption that Global Aerospace, the insurer for Pinnacle subsidiary Colgan Air, will ultimately be responsible for any damages awarded in the lawsuits. Colgan operated the Continental Connection plane that crashed in Clarence Center in February 2009, killing 50 people.
"When you boil it all down, the main rationale is that Colgan appears to be fully insured," Russ said.
Pinnacle, in a statement, seemed to agree with Russ' assessment of who is liable for punitives damages in the remaining lawsuits but stopped short of commenting on the request to lift the stay. "If punitive damages were awarded to the plaintiffs in the Flight 3407 litigation, Colgan believes payment would be covered by the liability insurance policy that was in place at the time of the accident," Pinnacle spokesman Joe F. Williams said.
Pinnacle filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April, months after the company indicated that it was facing cash-flow problems. The news represented a setback for family members who had not yet settled their lawsuits against the airline.
Family members also know that the bankruptcy case might allow Pinnacle to go to court and plead poverty in hopes of reducing the amount they might otherwise have to pay.
The lawsuits stem, in large part, from a federal investigation that blamed the crash on pilot error. The families have tried to make the case that Colgan's pilots were not well-trained and that Colgan forced pilots to fly despite illness and fatigue.