The family of an 18-month-old Indiana toddler who died after plunging from a Royal Caribbean ship to the ground below in July has filed a lawsuit against the cruise line, alleging that the company did not comply with industry standards designed to prevent falls from windows.
Kim and Al Wiegand, parents of Chloe Wiegand, filed the complaint Wednesday, their attorney Mike Winkleman said at a news conference announcing the suit.
"The singular goal is to raise awareness about window falls to try to prevent this from ever happening to another child again," Winkleman said.
Chloe, of South Bend, Indiana, died on July 7 when she plunged from the 11th floor of the Freedom of the Seas ship to the concrete on the Pan American dock II in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Traveling with her parents, two siblings and two sets of grandparents, Chloe was playing on the ship's H2O Zone kids water park, accompanied by her maternal grandfather Salvatore Anello, who in the days after her death recounted that Chloe wandered to a glass wall and asked to be lifted up, so he placed her on a railing that he believed was behind glass.
Chloe loved cheering on her 10-year-old brother at his hockey games, often by slamming on the rink's glass panels - a tradition that her family's attorney said she tried to replicate, which led to the tragedy.
"This was an unsafe wall of glass that shouldn't have been there within feet of a children's play area," Winkleman said, adding, "The industry standard is to follow this well-defined set of window fall prevention laws that have been on the books for literally decades."
"Had the Wiegand family just been on a different ship... Chloe would still be here because the windows are compliant," he continued.
"We would give anything to find ourselves in different circumstances than these," Kim Wiegand said Wednesday, noting that Chloe's second birthday would have been Friday. "We should be celebrating with a present and birthday cake but instead we're here talking about her death. I spend my evenings visiting with her urn rather than rocking my little girl to sleep."
"Royal Caribbean played a major role in the death of our child," she continued. "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."
"We believe that filing a lawsuit against the cruise line sends a message to them that they were wrong," Kim Wiegand added. "We hope this improves the safety of the ships for other children and other families. No other family should have to grieve the kind of loss we have to grieve."
"If this lawsuit prevents another death then it is worth something to us," she said.
Puerto Rican authorities charged Anello with negligent manslaughter in October, a move Winkleman said at the time was "pouring salt on the open wounds of this grieving family."
Kim Wiegand reiterated Wednesday that the family did not support the charges.
"Our family has already lost everything. What purpose could possibly be served by prosecuting a misdemeanor offense?" she asked. "It continues to be a source of stress and anxiety for our family and when we have already lost so much, what does this accomplish?"
Anello also spoke briefly Wednesday, taking no questions but saying only how sorry he was that anyone had to be there.
"I sit here broken and we all sit here broken, but our family is strong and we will stay strong together," he said.
"Our hearts go out to the family for their tragic loss," a spokesman for Royal Caribbean Cruises said in a statement. "Mr. Salvatore Anello is currently being criminally prosecuted for negligent homicide in the case. We have no comment on the civil filing."