Case of the Day: Santos v. LATAM Airlines

The case of the day is Santos v. LATAM Airlines Group S.A. (SDNY 2019). Yolanda Delia Arias Santos, an Ecuadoran, was flying from New York to Guyaquil, Ecuador on LATAM, a Chilean airline. she claimed that on the flight, a flight attendant spilled boiling tea on her. She sued in New York. LATAM moved to dismiss the case on forum non conveniens grounds, arguing that the plaintiff, almost all the witnesses, and the evidence were in Ecuador and that Ecuador was an adequate and more convenient forum.

The court granted the motion, and I am not going to review all the ins and outs. The one point I want to note is the court’s discussion of Ecuador as an adequate forum. The court reviewed very standard factors—LATAM’s stipulation to submit to jursidiction and accept service of process, the lack of a right to trial by jury and pretrial discovery in Ecuador, and the competence of the Ecuadoran court to hear such a case. The judge cited Aguinda in support of its decision. I find it notable that after the SDNY’s long experience with the Lago Agrio case, the opinion is silent about the possibility of systematic shortcomings in the Ecuadoran court system. In the Lago Agrio case, the shortcomings the US courts identified were case-specific, not systematic, but nevertheless, it is good to see that the exceptional situation in the Lago Agrio case has not led to lasting damage to judicial comity between the two nations.

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