The parents of a toddler who fell to her death when her grandfather accidentally dropped her from the 11th deck of a cruise ship have today lost their bid to hold Royal Caribbean legally responsible.
Alan and Kimberly Wiegand launched a negligence suit two years ago arguing that poorly designed windows and a lack of warning notices were to blame for daughter Chloe’s 150ft plunge from the Freedom of the Seas as it docked in Puerto Rico.
However a judge tossed the emotion-charged case this afternoon just days before it was due to go before a jury, ruling there was no way Royal Caribbean could have anticipated Salvatore Anello’s catastrophic decision to hold his 18-month-old granddaughter up to an open window.
Salvatore Anello accidentally dropped his 18-month-old granddaughter Chloe through an open window of the ship docked in San Juan in July 2019. Her parents blamed Royal Caribbean
Alan and Kimberly Wiegand launched a negligence suit two years ago arguing that poorly designed windows and a lack of warning notices were at fault in daughter Chloe’s 150ft plunge from the Freedom of the Seas as it docked in Puerto Rico
‘The true risk-creating danger here was Mr. Anello lifting a child up to an open window,’ wrote federal judge Donald L. Graham as he entered a summary judgement in the cruise operator’s favor.
‘The Plaintiffs have provided no evidence showing the Defendant was on notice of that danger.’
Within minutes of the decision Michael Winkleman, the Wiegand’s attorney, said the couple from South Bend, Indiana planned to appeal.
‘The family is surprised and deeply saddened by the court’s ruling. This is a matter that should be decided by a jury, and we are confident and hopeful the appellate court will agree,’ Winkleman told DailyMail.com.
‘We will be filing the appeal shortly and we will continue to fight and raise awareness about the dangers of unintentional toddler window falls. This case was always about Chloe and shining a light on her brief but beautiful life.’
Angelic Chloe and her granddad were about to embark on a seven-night Caribbean cruise with her parents, older brother, fraternal grandparents and Anello’s wife Patricia, when the freak accident unfolded in July 2019.
Anello said he did not know the window in the children´s play area was open and that he lifted 18-month-old Chloe up to it so she could knock on the glass
Chloe plummeted 150ft from the 11th floor of the ship onto a concrete dock beneath it
Haunting on-board camera footage of the incident shows Anello alone on deck with Chloe, who leads her grandfather away from the H20 zone splash pool towards the glass sides of the ship. He lifts the toddler up and sits her down on a wooden handrail but suddenly she tumbles forwards and disappears from view
Haunting on-board camera footage captured the grandfather holding the little girl up to the glass sides of the ship for 34 seconds before she suddenly tumbled through an opening and fell onto the concrete Pan American Pier 2 in San Juan.
Shocked Anello claimed afterwards that he had no idea he was placing her up against an open window because there were no warning signs and he could not distinguish between tinted glass and fresh air because he was colorblind.
However after he was arrested and charged by Puerto Rican authorities he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of negligent homicide and was sentenced to three years of probation which he is serving in his native Indiana.
Despite his admission of guilt, Kimberly, 38, and Alan, a 42-year-old cop, continued to blame Royal Caribbean, pushing on with a negligence lawsuit launched within days of Chloe’s death to force the cruise giant to revise its window design and pay potentially tens of millions in compensation.
The couple’s lawyers said that Royal Caribbean ‘chose to ignore’ the ‘clear, known’ dangers posed by their windows and instead chose to defend the case by blaming Anello and destroying CCTV evidence, claims which the operator denied.
Judge Graham ultimately sided with Royal Caribbean, agreeing that Chloe’s death was solely the result of Anello’s ‘unforeseeable’ behavior and that he would only have had to rely on his basic senses to conclude from the noise, light and wind that the window was ajar.
Anello avoided jail when he was sentenced to three years probation
‘Based on the record evidence which reveals that the windows surrounding the subject window were tinted; that Mr. Anello reached out in front of him and felt no glass in the window opening before extending the Decedent out to the window opening; that this incident took place on the 11th deck of the Defendant’s vessel.
‘And that Mr. Anello leaned his upper body over the wooden hand railing and out to the window opening before deciding to lift the Decedent up to the window, this Court finds that a reasonable person through ordinary use of his senses would have known of the dangers associated with Mr. Anello’s conduct. Accordingly, the Defendant owed no duty to warn of it,’ Graham wrote.
The decision, published late Tuesday, means that a two-week trial scheduled to begin in Miami US District Court next week that was due to hear from dozens of witnesses and see jurors taken on to the splash pool deck of the $800m Freedom of the Seas will no longer take place.
Anello, a retired IT worker, and both of Chloe’s parents were among those set to give harrowing evidence. They were both below deck when the accident happened and to this date have chosen not to view CCTV of Chloe’s fall.
Describing how it unfolded in a videotaped deposition for the case, Anello said he relived the fatal plunge over and over in his mind.
‘The entire ship had a wall of glass in an open-aired area. At no time did I not think that there was a protective wall of glass around me. I had confirmed wrongly in my mind that there was glass,’ he said.
‘If you go to the Sears Tower, there’s no way that you would think that, gee, I should see if there’s glass on that top story. Same thing.
‘Chloe got out of my hands because there wasn’t glass I expected there. I had my hands on her the whole time.
‘After the accident, I remember Kim getting there and screaming, “Why would you have a window open?” And that’s the first time I realized it was like a window … and not just like a missing pane of glass.’
He added, through tears: ‘Everything after I saw her fall is pretty tough to remember. After I saw her land, that’s what I see every day. That’s what I see every day.’