Grandfather Charged in Toddler’s Fatal Fall from Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship

Edward Maggio, J.D., M.S.

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— Updated on June 25, 2020

Grandfather Charged in Toddler’s Fatal Fall from Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship

Officials in Puerto Rico have charged a grandfather with the negligent homicide of his 18-month-old granddaughter Chloe Wiegand, after he allegedly dropped her out of a cruise ship window.

Prior to the fall, the child was in a clear-glass, enclosed children’s play space on the 11th deck of Royal Caribbean International’s – Freedom of the Seas. In the moments leading up to her death, her grandfather, Salvatore Anello, was holding her on a railing. She toppled out of an open window panel. Estimates are that she fell 150 feet from one of the ship’s highest decks. On October 29th, the Puerto Rican Department of Justice brought formal charges.

The Decision to Prosecute

Prosecutors for the Puerto Rican Department of Justice allege that Anello “exposed the child to the abyss through a window on the 11th floor,” according to their public statement. Furthermore, the prosecutors allege that Anello negligently exposed [his granddaughter] through one of the windows, placing fault in his actions.

Judge Jimmy Sepulveda of the San Juan Investigation Court called for Anello’s arrest on Monday and set bail at $80,000. Anello turned himself in to officials the same day. His bail was later posted, and he was allowed to return to his residence in Indiana on Tuesday, according to a legal representative for the Wiegand family.

Salvatore Anello is facing three years in prison for the death of Chloe. His next hearing is set for Nov. 29th.

Examining Safety Measures

In recent years, more than 20 million people have taken cruises annually. The outrage and shock of this tragedy has led to an examination of the safety measures aboard cruise ships. Despite advances in technology active premises on a cruise ship are not without danger. Since the year 2000, roughly 300 people have fallen overboard on cruise ships. While that number sounds large, statistically it’s extremely rare.

In this situation at present, both Royal Caribbean and the Wiegand family acknowledge that this was a horrible accident. However, the larger question remaining is whether safety measures were possible. An open window in the kids play area 11 stories off the ground on a cruise ship is concerning. Found in what’s known as the “H2O Zone” of the ship, the open window serves the purpose of ventilating the area. This issue is what provides an opportunity to consider whether Royal Caribbean was following the standards for windows on cruise ships.

The Need for Defense Experts

After the tragedy, media stories began emerging noting that the grandfather was dangling the child through the open window. However, Michael Winkleman, the Wiegand family attorney, has made efforts to remove the blame from the grandfather. He has publicly asserted that the window should not have been open in the first place.

Anello and his family now have a two-front legal war to fight. Besides needing experts for their upcoming civil suit against Royal Caribbean, Anello has to shift the blame and fault in this tragedy in his criminal case to Royal Caribbean to escape a criminal conviction. If he cannot escape a criminal conviction, it could negatively impact the future of the civil case against Royal Caribbean.

Anello’s counsel will likely search for experts who can testify in a variety of areas, including window design experts, cruise ship design experts, and fall safety experts. Psychologists and engineers certified in human factors may also be called to discuss the actions of both Anello and the crew that led to the window being opened. The relevance would be to show that Anello’s behavior with the child near these windows was not negligent.

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