Lawyer reveals missing piece in cruise ship tragedy
It’s every parents’ worst nightmare. A decision that ended in the most tragic way possible.
During a holiday of a lifetime, mother Kimberley Schultz Wiegand, her police officer husband Alan and their three children were on board the Royal Caribbean ‘ Freedom of the Seas ’ cruise ship. Joining them on the voyage was both sets of grandparents, including Kimberley’s father Salvatore Anello.
Beginning and ending in the harbourside town of San Juan in Puerto Rico, the Wiegand family travelled from Indiana to cruise around the Southern Caribbean islands — a journey that stopped into St Maarten, Dominica and even Barbados.
But while their ship sat at the port, the unimaginable happened. Chloe, just 18 months old, fell from an open window and plunged 45 metres on to the concrete dock below.
‘GONE IN AN INSTANT’
Playing in the “kid’s water zone” on the 11th floor of the cruise ship with her grandfather, Mr Anello, little Chloe reportedly asked him to lift her to a “wall of windows” which lined the play area.
According to The Guardian, Mr Anello propped his granddaughter on a wooden railing that ran the length of the window wall, believing there was closed glass behind Chloe like there was in the rest of the room.
Tragically, the window behind the toddler — a “hidden hole” surrounded by closed glass — had been opened. And in a moment of horror, Chloe went through the window and plunged 11 storeys to her death.
‘WHY WAS IT OPEN?’
In the moments following the tragedy, witnesses heard a “cry of pain” and wails of agony from Mr Anello and several other family members on board the ship.
According to local media outlet El Vocero, some were so hysterical after Chloe’s death that they had to be sedated by medics.
Maritime lawyer Michael Winkleman, who is representing the Wiegand family, said Chloe fell through an open glass pane on the cruise ship, adding that her grandfather thought the window was closed “just like everywhere else” in the kids play area on the ship.
Pinning the blame on Royal Caribbean, Mr Winkleman questioned why a single window was open in a child’s play area.
“The family needs answers as to why there would be an open window in a wall full of fixed windows in a kids’ play area? Why would you have the danger without any warning, sign, or notice?” Mr Winkleman argued.
“Essentially her grandfather lifts her up and puts her on a railing and where he thinks that there is glass there because it’s clear, but it turns out there was no glass there.
“She goes to bang on the glass like she would have at one of those hockey rinks, and the next thing you know, she’s gone.”
Following the tragedy, questions around whether Mr Anello negligence lead to Chloe’s death were quickly diffused by the family.
Mr Winkleman hit back at the suggestion that Mr Anello was acting irresponsibly.
“There was absolutely no alcohol involved, Sam is not a drinker,” he said.
MISSING PIECE COULD SOLVE MYSTERY
Puerto Rico Ports Authority spokesman Jose Carmona said the Wiegand family was gathered in or near a dining hall at the time of the incident, and that Mr Anello had sat Chloe on the edge of a window before she fell.
Mr Carmona said it remained unclear whether the window was already open or if someone opened it.
In an interview with news.com.au, the family’s lawyer Mr Winkleman said the answer lies in security footage which could play as a key piece to the puzzle that would answer why the window was open — and who opened it.
“Our early investigation revealed that these windows were not up to applicable safety codes designed precisely to protect children from falling out of windows,” Mr Winkleman told news.com.au.
“RCCL has not yet shared the CCTV footage with us despite repeated request. The next step (for the family) is getting the family home and having the funeral. For me, the next step is getting access to the that CCTV footage.
“If Royal will not provide in the short term then we will be forced to file the lawsuit in order to obtain the footage because we are indisputably entitled to it.”
When contacted by news.com.au, a spokesperson for RCCL said they were unable to comment on any information regarding the footage, but said they were “deeply saddened” by the “tragic incident”.
“We are assisting local authorities in San Juan, PR, as they make inquiries after an incident aboard Freedom of the Seas on Sunday.
“We do not have further information to share at this point.”
FAMILY STAND BY GRANDFATHER, BLAME CRUISE LINE
Mr Winkleman said the family are in “shambles” following the incident and desperate to get home, but are standing by Mr Anello.
They have instead pinned blame for the tragedy on The Royal Caribbean cruise line, maintaining the open glass pane should have been closed securely and that they should be held accountable.
“I think there is going to be blame and significant blame on the cruise line and I’m going to do everything I can to hold them accountable for what appears to be negligence,” Mr Winkleman said.
But Miami-based maritime lawyer Jim Walker says proving negligence won’t be an easy feat for the family.
“In order for a cruise line to be legally liable for this child’s death, the family’s lawyer must prove that the cruise line acted unreasonably and that the cruise line knew or should have known of the specific danger on its ship,” he told news.com.au.
“This will be an exceedingly difficult burden for the lawyer to meet in this very sad and tragic set of circumstances.
“Without evidence (prior incidents or proof that the cruise line knew of a dangerous condition on the cruise ship) the chances are slim that the court (if suit is filed) would permit this case to proceed to a jury trial,” he added.