7th Circuit Affirms Ruling that Saved Thomas the Show Horse from Euthanasia

By Jim Sams | September 1, 2022

The woman who owned Thomas the show horse wanted him put down, but Great American Assurance Co. saved him from the Grim Reaper.

For good reason. If a veterinarian had decided that Thomas must be euthanized, the carrier would have been stuck paying out on a $500,000 insurance claim.

According to court filings, after Great American stepped in and transported Thomas to a clinic owned by a “world-renowned” equine veterinarian, the horse made a “remarkable” recovery and is able is to live out his days in the green pastures of Kentucky under the insurer’s care.

A panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a life-affirming decision on Tuesday. The court upheld a decision by the US District Court in Southern Indiana that Great American acted within its rights when it took control of Thomas’ medical care and owes nothing on owner Julie Greenbank’s insurance claim.

“Greenbank appears to take the position that because Thomas lost his use as a show horse, Great American should have provided authorization for Thomas’ humane destruction,” the panel’s opinion says. “But we reject that proposition because nothing in the contract says that Great American was expected to protect Thomas’ use as a show horse.”

In September 2017 Greenbank paid $500,000 for Thomas, an American Saddlebred also known by the show name Awesome at This. She bought a mortality insurance policy from Great American to protect her investment.

The annual premium was $14,250, but the insurance could have cost more. Greenbank did not purchase a loss-of-use policy that would have paid out if Thomas was no longer to perform as an “athletic show horse.”

Thomas became ill in February 2018. A veterinarian who visited his stable in Vanderburgh County, Indiana diagnosed pneumonia. Greenbank didn’t notify Great American until two and half months later, even though the policy required “immediate notice” if the horse became ill.

Thomas recovered and was returned to training, but started coughing and became limp in May 2018. The veterinarian told Greenbank that Thomas “probably” will have to be put down.

Great American exercised a provision in its policy that allowed the carrier to take control of the horse’s medical care, at its own expense, if the animal’s life is in jeopardy.

The carrier shipped Thomas to the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, a facility in Lexington, Kentucky owned by Dr. Nathan Slovis, a veterinarian described as “world renowned” by Great American’s attorneys. Greenbank did not object to the transfer of care, the insurer says.

Thomas was near death when he arrived in Lexington, according to court filings. Veterinarians at Hagyard drained pus out of the horse’s lungs that had not been detected by his previous caretakers. They learned that his lameness was caused by condition that caused a bone in his foot to become disconnected from the hoof.

The Hagyard clinic performed a procedure called a tenotomy to get Thomas back on his feet, despite objections by Greenbank feared the surgery would destroy her horse’s ability to perform as a show horse.

In pleadings, Great American’s attorneys said Thomas’ continues “to amaze” is his recovery. They included a photo (shown above) that shows the horse grazing peacefully. The insurer said Thomas now lives on a farm owned by the veterinarian who performed the surgery.

“Within a year after his surgery, Thomas gained back his weight and returned to trotting, bucking, running, and galloping around the Pine Ridge Farm, where he now resides,” the appellate panel’s opinion says. “At oral argument, Great American shared that Thomas is still alive and doing well.”

The panel rejected Greenbank’s argument that the insurer should have authorized “humane destruction” of Thomas.

“To protect against Thomas’s use as a show horse, Greenbank could have sought a loss of use policy,” the court said.

The parties also quibbled about the amount Great American paid under a provision of its policy that provided up to $10,000 in veterinarian care. The decision also affirmed the district court’s ruling in favor of the insurer on those issues.

About the photo: This photo, included in court filings, depicts Thomas, a.k.a. Awesome at This, grazing on a veterinarian’s farm.

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