The families of Flight 3407 are tired of waiting for their proverbial day in court.
Four years have passed since the Continental Connection flight crashed in Clarence Center killing 50 people, and most of the original lawsuits against the airlines have been settled.
But for the families who have not resolved their claims – about 15 suits are still pending against Pinnacle Airlines and others – there’s a feeling they have waited too long already.
A federal judge on Wednesday gave them a date – March of 2014 – for the trial so many of them want.
“The families are obviously very frustrated with the passage of time," said Hugh M. Russ III, an attorney for several families. “The families want their day in court, and they want that day sooner rather than later."
Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny set the date after Russ reminded him the fifth anniversary of the crash will be approaching soon and the families are growing increasingly frustrated by delays in the case.
An attorney for Pinnacle countered by suggesting there was still a lot of pre-trial work to be completed.
Jennifer West, whose husband, Ernest, was killed in the crash, was in the courtroom Wednesday and took exception to the contention that a large amount of time is needed between now and March.
“Ernie doesn’t have a chunk of time,” West said. “I can’t believe they can complain about chunks of time.”
West views the airline’s push for a later trial date as one more effort to wear down the families who remain part of the federal and state court cases against Pinnacle.
Wearing several tattoos that are tributes to her late husband, including one of her engagement and wedding rings, West said she has found it difficult to even consider a monetary settlement.
“They’re basically asking me to put a price on my husband’s head,” she said. “That’s why it’s so hard for me to settle.”
The new trial date is the latest development in a case that was largely on hold for a year because of a court-ordered stay associated with Pinnacle’s bankruptcy.
“We are working with the plaintiffs to get a discovery schedule in place and will comply with the trial date set by the court,” company spokesman Joe F. Williams said in a statement Wednesday.
Pinnacle, which owned the twin-engine turboprop that crashed Feb. 12, 2009, recently emerged from bankruptcy court protection as a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Airlines.
The airline’s emergence from bankruptcy also means the wrongful death suits against it can resume.
The suits stem, in large part, from a federal investigation that blamed the crash on pilot error. The families have tried to make the case that Pinnacle’s pilots were not well-trained and that the airline required pilots to fly despite illness and fatigue.
The plane that crashed in Clarence was owned and operated by Colgan Air, which was part of Pinnacle and flew under the Continental Connection banner.
Continental, which has since merged with United Airlines, contracted with Colgan to operate Flight 3407.