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Originally published Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 7:15 AM

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Norwegian court overturns lawsuit by divers

An appeals court on Tuesday overturned a nearly 30 million kroner ($4.2 million) settlement for three deep sea divers who claim their health was ruined by Norway's early quest for offshore oil wealth.

OSLO, Norway —

An appeals court on Tuesday overturned a nearly 30 million kroner ($4.2 million) settlement for three deep sea divers who claim their health was ruined by Norway's early quest for offshore oil wealth.

In August 2007, the Oslo district court ordered the government to compensate the three men in a case that could have brought a rash of similar lawsuits. However, the Borgarting appeals overturned that ruling, saying the government could not be held responsible for their injuries.

When Norway, now one of the world's major oil exporters, was first developing its North Sea fields in the 1970s and 1980s, divers were sent to extreme and sometimes experimental depths to maintain and install equipment.

The so-called pioneer divers from the early years of Norway's offshore oil development - Magn Haakon Muledal, Angus Gunnar Kleppe, and Dag Vilnes - said they will appeal the case to the Supreme Court. It was not clear when the case would be heard.

The appeals court acknowledged the "extraordinary risk" of their tasks but said the state was not responsible because none of "the appellants were ever employed by or had assignments for the government."

Some divers complain of severe health consequences, including lung and brain damage. In December, a government survey said 20 percent of 139 divers active between 1965 and 1990 were on medical disability pensions.

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