Simon, the giant rabbit who recently died during transport from London to Missouri, was destined to be shown off at the Iowa State Fair. Now, the three investors who had purchased Simon to raise money for the fair are taking United to court, accusing the airline of negligence.
The lawsuit [PDF], filed in a Polk County, IA, court earlier this week, explains that the plaintiffs — the “Simon Group” –had intended to display Simon as the “world’s largest rabbit” during the 10-day annual fair in Des Moines, all while selling related merchandise, including hats, shirts, miniature versions of Simon, and books. The group also planned to make Simon the star attraction at subsequent events.
In April, the investors purchased Simon from his previous owners in the U.K., and had the young rabbit checked by a veterinarian before a third-party animal transportation company put him on the United flight from London to Kansas City, via Chicago. The plaintiffs claim that Simon received a clean bill of health from the vet before the trip.
When Simon’s flight arrived in Chicago, the rabbit was reportedly placed in a United-operated kennel while waiting for the connecting flight to Kansas City. At some point before that second leg of the trip, airline staff noted that Simon had passed away.
The plaintiffs say that United did not contact them promptly about Simon’s death, meaning the new owners didn’t have the opportunity to request a necropsy. Instead, according to the lawsuit, United cremated Simon’s body without first getting permission from the ownership group.
The lawsuit claims that United “has not provided an explanation to the Simon Group as to the cause of his death,” though there are numerous theories about what could have happened.
Additionally, they allege that United failed to comply with federal reporting rules, by not filing a narrative description of the Simon incident within the required window of time.
“The failure of Defendant UA to file the required incident report regarding Simon’s death, in conjunction with the cremation of Simon’s body without the consent of the Simon Group, is shameful, outrageous, and unlawful,” alleges the complaint. “It is evidence of the willful, wanton, and reckless disregard for the rights of the Simon Group.”
In the complaint, the plaintiffs point out that Simon is not the only pet to die while in United’s care, noting that the airline has acknowledged the deaths of 53 transported animals from Jan. 2012 through Feb. 2017. They also cite statements attributed to former United pet handlers who have been critical of the airline’s PetSafe program.
“Simply put, the facts show a pattern of wrongful treatment of pets by United Airlines and cover-up by United regarding the death of Simon,” claims plaintiffs’ attorney Guy Cook in an email to Consumerist.
A statement from United says that the airline was “saddened by Simon’s death in April,” and that United is reviewing the complaint.
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, alleges that United was negligent in its handling of Simon, and that the airline attempted to cover up its negligence by rushing to cremate the rabbit’s body.