Date: 9/9/2008 2:34 PM
By BJORN H. AMLAND
Associated Press Writer
OSLO, Norway (AP) _ A Norwegian court on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by nearly 20 divers who claim their health was seriously damaged from working at extreme depths during oil exploration in the North Sea three decades ago.
The Oslo District Court said the government could not be held legally responsible for the divers’ health problems because they were not directly employed by the government at the time. The divers had sought a total of 277 million kroner (US$49 million) in damages.
Scores of so-called pioneer divers were sent to extreme, sometimes experimental depths while working on offshore oil installations in the 1970s and 1980s, according to a government commission that studied the case. Some of them have complained of lung and brain damage.
The lawsuit was filed by 18 divers and the widow of another diver. It said the government violated the European Convention on Human Rights because it knew or should have known the risks of deep-sea diving and failed to put in place the regulations necessary to protect the divers.
The Oslo court said the government could not be held legally responsible — despite its involvement in the oil industry — because the divers were employed by diving and oil companies operating on the Norwegian continental shelf.
However, it said there was a lack of precedent and suggested a Supreme Court decision on the matter would be helpful.
“I am very surprised about the verdict,” said Marius Reikeraas, a lawyer representing the divers. “The way it looks now we will likely aim for an appeal directly to the Supreme Court.”
The outcome could bring a spate of other suits by injured divers.
The government has accepted moral and political responsibility for the divers, but rejects any legal obligation. However, in 2004, Parliament authorized compensation of nearly $500,000 for each of about 200 divers, in addition to previous payments of more than $90,000 each.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.