(CN) - Six offshore drilling rig workers can sue their employer for negligence after pirates took them hostage for two weeks and threatened to torture and kill them, a Texas appeals court ruled.
Mark Richards and five colleagues were working off the coast of Nigeria for Transocean Inc.
They said pirates invaded their oil rigs and held them hostage for two weeks, subjecting them to "repeated threats of cruel death, torture, and dismemberment."
The workers sued Transocean, which argued that it was not liable, because it did not own the oil rigs at the time of the hostage incident.
The trial court granted Transocean's motion for summary judgment, but the Houston-based 1st District Court of Appeals said the lower court failed to address the rig workers' joint enterprise liability theory.
They argued that Transocean "is the largest drilling company in the world but yet has no employees, so it says. Its officers and directors for the most part ... live in Houston and they all purport to be employees of various and sundry subsidiaries. But, in fact, their day-to-day activity in Houston they are running the business of Transocean Inc., and all the rest of its affiliates."
Ownership technicalities aside, they argued, Transocean is liable for breaching its duty to provide a safe workplace.
The appeals court said Transocean's motion for no-evidence summary judgment failed to address the workers' theory.
"Because Transocean did not amend its motion to include a ground addressing appellants' joint enterprise liability theory, we hold the district court erred in rendering the take-nothing summary judgment," Justice Michael Massengale wrote.
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