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Owners sue United over giant rabbit’s death after flight from London

Attorney Guy Cook looks at a photo of Simon, a giant rabbit that died after flying from the United Kingdom to Chicago, during a news conference, Monday, May 8, 2017, in Des Moines, Iowa. | AP Photo

The owners of a giant rabbit that died in April after a United Airlines flight from London filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the company, accusing the airline of cremating the animal’s remains to destroy evidence about what killed it.

The lawsuit comes after the owners of Simon, a giant continental rabbit, demanded an independent investigation into his death at a news conference in May.

Simon, who was expected to surpass his father in length to become the world’s largest rabbit, was found dead the morning of April 20 after a flight from London to O’Hare Airport in Chicago. His body was cremated. The veterinarian who examined the rabbit before its flight to the United States determined Simon was in “good physical condition” and able to travel, according to the lawsuit.

Attorneys representing the rabbit’s owners allege the case is indicative of larger troubles United Airlines has safely transporting animals. Over the past five years, animal deaths in United Airlines’ care have made up one-third of flight-related animal deaths, according to the lawsuit. The suit cites U.S. Department of Transportation data showing United had the most animal deaths in 2016.

“The facts show a pattern of wrongful treatment of pets by United Airlines and a cover up by United regarding the death of Simon,” said Guy Cook, a Des Moines attorney representing the ownership group.

Simon was purchased in April on behalf of Mark Oman, Steve Bruere and Duke Reichardt, three Iowa businessmen who hoped to show the rabbit at the Iowa State Fair and raise money for its Blue Ribbon Foundation.

The lawsuit seeks to recoup the costs of purchasing and transporting the rabbit from England, as well as punitive damages to punish the airline for its conduct.

A spokesperson for United Airlines did not immediately return a request for comment.