Last April, Simon, a bunny expected to grow to be one of the largest in the world, boarded a United Airlines flight in his hometown in the United Kingdom. He was bound for the Iowa State Fair. He never made it. During a layover in Chicago, Simon’s owners found him dead in a United kennel. Now, they are suing United Airlines, claiming that not only were airline’s employees responsible for the animal’s death, but they also cremated him soon after the incident to destroy evidence of how he died.
The lawsuit officially charges United with negligence for the improper care and transportation of Simon. Mark Oman, Steve Bruere, and Duke Reichardt, three Iowa businessmen who bought Simon soon before the incident and filed the lawsuit, hope to prove that united is “notorious for poor storage and handling of animals”. The three say that all profits from Simon’s would-be appearance and associated merchandise would have been donated to the Blue Ribbon Foundation.
The suit never explains how Simon died. It does, however, detail multiple possible scenarios including dangerously low temperatures during the flight as well as dry ice that may have been stored near the animal.
“They’re frustrated with how United has handled this from the start,” says Guy Cook, the attorney for the three businessmen who are filing the lawsuit.
Annette Edwards, a breeder that worked with the animal, says that Simon was cleared by a veterinarian as healthy enough to fly. United Airlines claims that the rabbit was alive throughout the flight, but died in a pet holding facility in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD).
Soon after the rabbit’s death, the airline, which has a hub in Chicago, said that it was reviewing the incident. Simon’s owners, however, called for an independent investigation.
“We were saddened by Simon’s death in April. We have received this complaint and are currently reviewing it,” read a statement released by United.
Simon traveled in the cargo hold of a Boeing 767 from England to Chicago. When the flight landed, Simon stayed in the cargo hold while waiting to be loaded onto a connecting flight to Kansas City. There, his owners planned to retrieve him.
The three men bringing the lawsuit aren’t the only ones that are criticizing United for its treatment of animals. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) pointed out that there have been multiple cases of animal death, like Simon’s, in the cargo holds of airline jets.
“More than 300 animals have died in cargo holds since 2005, including 74 on United flights,” read a PETA blog post from April. “According to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the airline had the worst record of animal deaths and injuries among all U.S. airlines in 2016.”
In May, United said that it had reached a “satisfactory resolution” with Edwards. Simon’s current owners say that any damages awarded in the suit will go to the fair.