New HBO 'Luck' Court Filing Claims Rampant Hollywood Animal Abuse

An amended lawsuit comes with graphic pictures and allegations against "Life of Pi," "The Hobbit" and Steven Spielberg.
A scene from "Luck"

Barbara Casey, who worked as the director of production in the American Humane Association's film and television unit, is back with new allegations against HBO in an effort to keep the network involved in a lawsuit over her termination.

In July, a judge dismissed HBO and Luck producer Stewart Productions from the ongoing case. Casey alleged that the entertainment companies were "aiding and abetting a wrongful termination," however, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis was skeptical about the existence of such a claim.

Casey was given a chance to allege more to support her claims.

STORY: 'Luck' Really Soured HBO on Working With Animals

In the original lawsuit, she claimed that she had observed mistreated horses, that the animals were misidentified by producers so that animal safety reps couldn't track their medical histories and that HBO and Stewart pressured the organization to allow them to violate the AHA's animal safety standards.

Now, in a newly amended complaint (below) that includes graphic pictures of mistreated animals, she speaks about how the AHA administers the "No Animals Were Harmed" trademark -- a stamp of approval that films and TV shows get from the AHA when they are ethical toward animals -- and resulting conflicts, allegedly leading AHA into a practice of "concealing animal deaths and injuries as a matter of course."

Bringing up examples from Life of Pi, The Hobbit and an alleged cover-up on Steven Spielberg's War Horse, she says, "AHA kowtows to these Hollywood producers because it is less concerned with animal safety and more concerned with its own financial gain and/or that of its officers and directors, continued funding by the IACF and/or its own public relations campaigns. AHA reaped and continues to reap both profit and political gain by hitching its wagon to Hollywood film and television shows and the press generated by this industry."

AHA denies all this. (Full statement below.)

STORY: How the 'Luck' Lawsuits Improved Animal Treatment On Set

Time will tell whether the new allegations will really allow her to sue HBO with an aiding and abetting wrongful termination claim that's fairly unprecedented. A spokesperson tells THR, "We intend to ask the court to dismiss this complaint as well and are hopeful for the same result."

But in the meantime, Casey seeks to be some sort of whistleblower, not just about animal abuse but also on the organization that is supposed to monitor animal abuse. In her lawsuit, she speaks about how AHA's chief executive shows up at red-carpet events, rides Hollywood "coattails" and how the organization looks the other way in instances of animal abuse. Here are a few examples given from her amended lawsuit:

  • "AHA's animal safety representatives worked on the set of HBO production Temple Grandin and observed a cow killed on set. Nonetheless, to appease HBO, and despite the cow’s death, AHA gave the production its 'No Animals Were Harmed' end credit. Ironically, Temple Grandin was about the life of a well-known pioneer in the ethical treatment of livestock. AHA sold $25,000 per plate dinners for a purported charity event honoring its own participation in the film."
  • "During the production of the Oscar-winning film Life of Pi, the celebrated tiger appearing in the film and used as a highly successful marketing image was handled without proper care and almost drowned. … Despite the near death of a tiger, AHA gave the 'No Animals Were Harmed' end credit on this production."
  • "During production of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, 27 animals were killed, including horses, goats and sheep. AHA gave an especially misleading end credit for this film, which read as follows: 'American Humane monitored all of the significant animal action. No animals were harmed during such action.'
  • "A horse was killed during production of the film War Horse, directed and produced by Steven Spielberg. In order to protect Steven Spielberg, one of the most notable and influential persons in the history of film, and because of the volume of press and other publicity this film garnered, AHA agreed to cover-up the death of this horse and to give the film its 'No Animals Were Harmed' end credit."

(Spielberg and the producers of Life of Pi and The Hobbit are not defendants. We've reached out to Spielberg's reps and will provide any comment they have.)

STORY: 'Luck' Horse Death Lawsuit Against HBO Likely Dismissed

Her complaint goes on to allege that "AHA had a special and important relationship with HBO."

Casey says that when scheduling and logistical conflicts arose, AHA made it a "priority" to assign reps to HBO productions and made particular efforts not to "rock the boat" on HBO productions lest there be political and PR fallout. She then repeats much of the history of Luck's misfortune with horses -- four deaths detailed in her first complaint filed at the beginning of the year. This time, though, there are numerous pictures of bloody horses, lying on the ground with broken limbs as workers attempt to rescue them -- clearly an emotionally charged effort to get to the next stage of her lawsuit.

"We absolutely and categorically deny the sensationalist, inflammatory, misleading and untrue allegations in Ms. Casey's amended complaint, and we look forward to vigorously defending ourselves through the proper legal channels," says American Humane Association in a statement.

The AHA adds that it is a "charity that has been passionately dedicated to protecting animals in film for 70 years -- and we have done it with and outstanding 99.98 percent safety rate. We are extremely proud of our safety record and our long history of animal protection, which e have carried out with honesty, integrity, and above all, a fierce and abiding love for those we care for."

Twitter: @eriqgardner