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Coke Challenges Asbestos Liability Claim

December 20, 2002 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) _ Coca-Cola asked a judge to toss out a claim by a water filtration company it owned more than 20 years ago that is seeking $10 million from Coke to pay for legal expenses related to an asbestos lawsuit.

The world’s largest beverage maker said it has no past, present or future responsibility to pay for expenses incurred by Milwaukee-based Aqua-Chem Inc.

Coke filed the complaint Friday against Aqua-Chem in Fulton County Superior Court.

Atlanta-based Coke bought Aqua-Chem in 1970 because it was interested in the company’s water filtration technologies. Coke sold the business in 1981 to focus on its core business.

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A division of Aqua-Chem made a boiler that contained gaskets purchased from outside suppliers, Coke said. Several years after Coke sold the company, Aqua-Chem was sued because there was asbestos in some of the gaskets.

Aqua-Chem has demanded that Coke reimburse it for about $10 million for legal costs incurred over the last 18 years and acknowledge liability for certain future expenses.

``Aqua-Chem’s asbestos claimants are and should continue to be covered by existing insurance,″ Coke said in a statement. ``Further, regardless of the outcome of this litigation, the Coca-Cola Co. believes that any uninsured financial liability is not material to the financial position of the company.″

An Aqua-Chem spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Shares of Coke fell 4 cents to close Friday at $44.08 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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On the Net:

http://www.coca-cola.com

http://www.aqua-chem.com