Insurer avoids paying on policy after euthanasia of race horse
North American Specialty Insurance wrote an equine mortality policy for the owners of a horse named Off Duty. Off Duty fractured both bones in its foreleg at Churchill Downs and the owners investigated whether it needed to be euthanized. Under the insurance policy, the insurer was required to reimburse the value of the horse if a veterinarian certified that the horse was incurable and in extreme pain. The owners were told at the race track that the horse needed to be euthanized ]; they took it to a veterinarian for a second opinion. They were told by the second vet that the injury met veterinarians' guidelines for ethical euthanasia, but that there was a fifty percent chance of survival if the fractured bones were fused.
The insurer offered to underwrite the cost of the fusion procedure and rehabilitation, believing that the horse's potential as a breeding stallion could be preserved. The owners sent the insurer a videotape demonstrating that the horse was in intractable pain and opted to put it down. The insurer then refused to pay on the policy because the owners had not presented the certified veterinarian opinion required for payment under the policy.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that even though the horse met the ethical guidelines for euthanasia, the precise wording of the contract controlled and the owners had not met the terms for payment under the policy. The owners' case was dismissed.