Simon, a 3-foot-long rabbit destined to become the biggest bunny in the world, never made it to his destination of Kansas City in April.
Instead, the giant hare, not even a year old, died on April 20 in the care of United Airlines on a flight from London to Chicago before he could even make his connecting flight to KC.
In May, United reached what it called a “satisfactory resolution” with Simon’s British breeder over his death. But the quest for justice over his inexplicable demise wasn’t finished.
On Wednesday, the three-man investment group in Des Moines that bought Simon and planned to show him at the Iowa State Fair next month sued United for punitive damages as well as unspecified damages to cover the cost of the animal, The Associated Press reported.
The lawsuit says United was negligent in Simon’s care and transportation and then improperly cremated him.
The lawsuit also alleges United has a poor reputation when it comes to transporting animals, alleging the airline is responsible for one-third of all animal deaths via U.S. air travel in the last five years, the AP reported.
Simon was the son of Darius, the 4-foot-3-inch rabbit who holds the Guinness World Record for world’s longest rabbit. Breeder Annette Edwards, a former Playboy model, expected Simon to weigh as much as 40 pounds one day.
In April a distraught Edwards told The Associated Press that Simon had a vet check before traveling from Heathrow in London to O’Hare in Chicago. She would not identify his new “celebrity” owner.
“Simon had his vet check just before getting on the plane,” she told the AP. “He was fit as a fiddle.”
She told Britain’s The Sun that she has sent rabbits “around the world before and nothing like this happened.”
She did not allow United to perform a necropsy on the rabbit.
The lead attorney for the investment group that bought Simon told CNBC in May it was possible that United stuck him in a freezer during the 16-hour transcontinental flight.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday suggests possible scenarios: that Simon was exposed to low temperatures in the cargo section of the Boeing 767 or that there was dry ice in the same compartment.
“We are saddened to hear this news. The safety and well being of all the animals that travel with us is of the utmost importance to United Airlines and our PetSafe team,” United said in a statement after Simon died.
“We have been in contact with the customer and have offered assistance. We are reviewing this matter.”
United cremated Simon without the owners’ permission, attorney Guy Cook alleged in May.
“They destroyed the proof,” Cook told CNBC. “United Airlines can issue any statement they like, but their company’s credibility is under question when they immediately cremate the giant rabbit Simon without anyone’s consent.”
According to United spokesman Charles Hobart, Simon was alive and well and moving around his kennel 35 minutes after the plane landed at O’Hare to catch the connecting flight.
“Shortly thereafter, a kennel representative noticed Simon was motionless and that he had passed away,” Hobart told CNBC, but did not discuss the cremation allegations.
Hobart released a statement on Wednesday responding to the lawsuit.
“We were saddened by Simon’s death in April. We have received this complaint and are currently reviewing it,” the statement said.
Cook told the Chicago Tribune that Simon’s new owners – Mark Oman, Steve Bruere and Duke Reichardt — never intended to profit from him and plan to donate any money they might be awarded from the lawsuit to the upkeep of the state fairgrounds in Des Moines.
“They’re frustrated with how United has handled this from the start,” Cook told the Tribune. “None of them stand to benefit financially from the resolution.”