Slater, et al. v. Republic-Vanguard Ins. Co.

LCI Equipments, Inc. (LLC) was a Texas corporation that imported and sold the tractor that killed Rudy Slater in a roll-over accident. Wanda Slater, an Arkansas resident and Rudy's wife, commenced a wrongful death action in state court, asserting negligence and strict product liability claims against LCI, and others, focusing primarily on the tractor's lack of a roll-over protection system (ROPS). LCI's insurer, also a Texas corporation, denied coverage and refused to defend LCI under its Commercial General Liability policy. With the wrongful death suit pending, LCI assigned its rights in the policy to Slater who then commenced this action against the insurer in Arkansas state court. On appeal, Slater asserted for the first time the absence of diversity jurisdiction and further argued that the district court erred in construing the policy exclusion. The court held that, as here, where Slater structured the case, naming LCI as a nominal plaintiff, the district court had, and properly exercised, diversity jurisdiction. The court also noted that the partial assignment of the $100 interest retained by LCI did not defeat jurisdiction. The court held that Slater's argument that the insurer had a duty to defend because of LCI's failure to install ROPS safety equipment was not properly preserved in the district court and therefore, the court declined to consider it further. The court also agreed with the district court's conclusion that LaBatt Co. v. Hartford Lloyd's Ins. Co., reflected Texas law. Moreover, the definition of "Your product" in the insurer's policy expressly excluded the "providing of or failure to provide warnings or instructions," unlike the exclusion at issue in LaBatt. Therefore, the insurer's contention was more consistent with the plain language of the policy and Slater had failed to show plain error. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court was affirmed.