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A federal bankruptcy judge dismissed all claims by insurance companies in the Halliburton Co. asbestos settlement case on Wednesday, saying they had no standing to challenge the agreement. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Judith Fitzgerald ruled that because Halliburton and its subsidiaries would be making direct payments to the victims, the insurance companies cannot challenge the settlement on what may or may not happen in the future. Halliburton, the Houston-based oil services and construction conglomerate, last month filed a long-awaited, pre-negotiated bankruptcy petition in Pittsburgh for eight subsidiaries to settle about 400,000 asbestos and 21,000 silica claims for $4.17 billion in cash and stock. If approved, the deal would settle all current and future asbestos claims against the company once run by Vice President Dick Cheney. The insurance companies wanted the bankruptcy petition thrown out primarily because they said Halliburton will file insurance claims to cover the asbestos settlements. More than 20 insurance companies objected, saying the primary reason more than 98 percent of the lawsuit creditors favor the plan is because Halliburton will pay $2.78 billion — or nearly $7,000 in cash to settle each current claim. Historically, asbestos claims settle for about $920 each, the insurers said. Any future asbestos claims will be paid from $1.4 billion in stock to be held in trust. The insurers claimed Halliburton is misusing bankruptcy laws to get an illegal leg up on the asbestos claims and shouldn’t qualify for Chapter 11 protection, which is meant to help “financially distressed” companies reorganize so they can pay off their debts. Attorneys for Halliburton and its subsidiaries argued that the insurance companies don’t have the right to question the settlement because they’re not owed money by Halliburton, and they don’t stand to be “injured” by the bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court scheduled hearings beginning May 10 to consider confirmation of the plan. Halliburton shares rose 75 cents, or 2.5 percent, to $31.11 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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