Forum Non Conveniens
Forum non conveniens, which in Latin means “an inconvenient forum,” is a procedural doctrine that gives courts that have the jurisdiction to handle a case the discretion to decline to hear that case if it decides it would be more proper, or more convenient, for the case to be held in a different jurisdiction.
This concept is frequently brought up in aviation cases since accidents may have victims and plaintiffs that include both U.S. and foreign citizens as well as involve airlines or manufacturers that are incorporated in states and countries different from the plaintiffs’ locality.
The Warsaw Convention established four choices for jurisdiction for accidents on international flights, and under the Warsaw Convention, it was ruled that if a court had subject matter jurisdiction as stipulated by the treaty, the court could not decline to exercise its jurisdiction based on forum non conveniens. However, by the time the Montreal Convention went into effect in 2003, forum non conveniens had become firmly established in the common law, and U.S. courts would often decline to hear cases if other venues in other countries were also applicable.
Forum non conveniens is an important factor because the venue in which plaintiffs bring their claims can have a major impact on the damages they can recover. Neither the Warsaw Convention nor the Montreal Convention contains damages laws, so damages are governed by the jurisdiction in which the lawsuit is brought. The United States has more favorable damages laws for plaintiffs, and oftentimes, it may be more beneficial to have aviation cases litigated here. Other countries have more restrictive damages regimes, and in those instances when there is also jurisdiction in those places, defendants will argue that those forums are more convenient in an attempt to lessen their liability.