Wilburn Boat Co. v. Fireman's Fund Insurance Co.

348 U.S. 310, 75 S.Ct. 368, 99 L.Ed. 337, 1955 AMC 467 (1955)

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Wilburn Boat Co. v. Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co.

United States Supreme Court
348 U.S. 310, 75 S.Ct. 368, 99 L.Ed. 337, 1955 AMC 467 (1955)

Facts

The Wilburn Boat Co. (Wilburn) (plaintiff) owned a houseboat that it used for commercial carriage of passengers on a lake that lay between Texas and Oklahoma. Wilburn had an insurance policy with Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. (Fireman’s) (defendant) that covered the vessel for loss from fire and other risks. After the houseboat was destroyed in a fire, Fireman’s refused to cover the loss, alleging that Wilburn had violated certain provisions of the insurance policy, even though those violations were totally unrelated to the loss. Wilburn sued Fireman’s in Texas state court, and the case was removed to federal district court for diversity-jurisdiction reasons. Wilburn alleged that Texas state law should be applied because the insurance policy had been issued in Texas. Under Texas law, a breach of provisions in an insurance policy was not a defense to nonpayment of a claim unless the breach contributed to the loss. The district court refused to apply state law, however, holding that federal admiralty law must be applied because the policy was for maritime insurance. The court further held that under admiralty law, any breach of an insurance-policy provision barred recovery under the policy. The court entered judgment for Fireman’s. The court of appeals affirmed the decision, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Black, J.)

Concurrence (Frankfurter, J.)

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