(CN) – Relatives of 22 Mexican drilling rig workers killed during a severe storm are headed back to court, after the federal judge who dismissed their case recused himself for owning stock in the parent company of one of the defendant corporations.
The 5th Circuit said U.S. District Judge Ron Clark’s recusal “call[s] into question the continued validity of his dismissal.”
The workers were aboard the Usumacinta drilling rig, positioned about 10 miles north of the Mexican coast, when the rig was hit by hurricane-force winds on Oct. 23, 2007.
Damage from the storm-battered rig caused oil and gas to leak from one of the platform’s wells. In an attempt to flee the rig, the 22 workers and two rescuers boarded life boats, but the boats capsized, and the men drowned.
Family members of the deceased workers filed a federal negligence complaint against four Texas companies: Gulf Coast Marine & Associated, Schlumberger Technology Corp., Halliburton Energy Services and Matthews-Daniel Co.
At the time, the companies had only agreed to submit to jurisdiction in Mexico City.
Judge Clark dismissed the case on the basis that it was the wrong forum for the lawsuit. After the plaintiffs appealed, he recused himself on the grounds that he owned stock in Schlumberger Limited, the parent company of Schlumberger Technology.
The federal appeals court in New Orleans sent the case back to district court for a reassessment of Clark’s dismissal.
“Given the incomplete information in the record regarding the circumstances of the judge’s recusal, we remand this case to the district court for the limited purpose of addressing whether the dismissal of this case should be set aside,” Judge Fortunato Benavides wrote for the three-judge panel.