On Wednesday, a little more than five months after Chloe fell from an open window on the Royal Caribbean International ship in Puerto Rico, her parents sued the cruise line that they claim played a “major role” in her death. According to the suit, the operator was negligent for failing to follow safety standards to prevent window falls, for failing to put “reasonably safe windows” near children’s play areas and for failing to provide signs or other visual cues to make it clear when a window was open.
“The crux of the complaint is essentially that this was an unsafe wall of glass that shouldn’t have been there within feet of a children’s play area,” attorney Michael Winkleman said during the news conference in Indiana, where the family lives. He said if the cruise line was not going to follow fall prevention standards such as screens, bars or locking devices, it should have included some kind of warning label that the windows could open.
Chloe’s grandfather, Salvatore Anello, was holding her up to what he thought was solid glass when she fell. He has been charged with negligent homicide in Puerto Rico — officials said he “negligently exposed the child to the abyss through a window” — and is out on bond. He told CBS News recently that he is colorblind, which might have made it difficult for him to see the difference between a window and open air.
A representative for Royal Caribbean said the cruise line would have no comment on the lawsuit and did not answer specific questions about window safety standards.
“Our hearts go out to the family for their tragic loss,” the company said in a statement. “Mr. Salvatore Anello is currently being criminally prosecuted for negligent homicide in the case.”
The lawsuit points out other ships — from competitors Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Line, to newer vessels within Royal Caribbean — that have windows that do not open at all, or do not have openings of more than four inches.
“The goal of the family is that the filing of this case will raise awareness,” Winkleman said. The family has not specified the amount of damages they are seeking. Winkleman said they also want Royal Caribbean to fix any windows that could potentially allow for the same kind of situation; the ship in question, he said, is going for a major refurbishment soon.
“Fix it,” he said. “Change the windows. Put a warning. Do something. Kids are not supposed to die on cruise ships, and you can’t have an open window feet away from a children’s water play area.”
According to the suit, the family had just boarded the ship in San Juan on July 7 a few hours before the accident. Kimberly Wiegand went to a pool area with her daughter around 2:40 p.m. A little more than an hour later, Anello — who is married to Wiegand’s mother — came to watch the 18-month-old in a children’s water play area on Deck 11. Winkleman described the time that followed as “helicopter grandparenting” as Anello followed the toddler all around.
When she walked up to what looked to Anello like a “wall of fixed glass,” according to the complaint, Chloe asked to be picked up. She wanted, the family said, to bang on the glass like she did at her brother’s hockey games. What Anello did not realize was that some of the middle panes of glass were windows that could slide open to the side. The one that Chloe meant to bang on was open — the suit said it was the only one open — and she fell from her grandfather’s grasp onto the pier in San Juan.
“There is no reason for this ship to have walls of glass surrounding the 11th floor with portions that open. If that condition did not exist, Chloe would still be here,” Wiegand said. “We believe that filing a lawsuit against the cruise line sends a message to them that they were wrong. Most of all, we hope that this improves the safety of these ships for other children and other families. No other family should have to grieve the kind of loss we have to grieve.”
She added: “If this lawsuit prevents another death, then it is worth something to us.”
Wiegand said Anello’s prosecution has caused stress and anxiety at an already excruciating time.
“I want to be clear and unequivocal: We do not support this misdemeanor charge or any charges whatsoever,” she said. “Not then, not now and not ever. We are here today as a family supporting one another and we will continue to do so. Our family has already lost everything. What purpose could possibly be served by prosecuting a misdemeanor?”
Anello, who was one of several family members who appeared at the news event, spoke briefly but did not answer questions.
“I sit here broken, and we all sit here broken, but our family is strong and we will stay strong together,” he said.
Chloe’s mother asked friends and family to perform random acts of kindness on Friday in honor of her daughter’s birthday.
“This is the only way we believe we can keep her memory truly alive and to keep her spirit of kindness going on forever,” Wiegand said.