By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived a lawsuit against Royal Caribbean Cruises by the parents of an 18-month-old girl who died after slipping through her grandfather’s hands and falling through an open cruise ship window.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta restored two negligence claims over the July 2019 death of Chloe Wiegand, who had been in a children’s play area aboard the ship Freedom of the Seas, which was docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Her grandfather Salvatore Anello testified that he picked Chloe up and put her feet on the windowsill, not realizing that the window was open. Chloe slipped from his grasp and fell about 150 feet to her death on the pier below.
Chloe’s parents Alan Wiegand and Kimberly Schultz-Wiegand, both from Indiana, sued Royal Caribbean, saying it violated industry standards by not installing safety devices to prevent falls from windows.
In a 21-page decision, the three-judge appeals court said jurors could find that Royal Caribbean knew the risk of children falling through open windows, noting its use of protective railings and warnings to passengers not to climb over them.
It also said jurors should decide whether Royal Caribbean could have foreseen an adult like Anello holding Chloe near the window, which might not excuse its alleged negligence.
The court returned the case to U.S. District Judge Donald Graham in Miami. He had dismissed it in July 2021, saying Anello’s conduct was the unforeseeable, proximate cause of Chloe’s death, and the open window was an obvious danger.
Royal Caribbean and its lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Jacqueline Garcell, a lawyer for the parents, faulted Royal Caribbean for refusing to install devices that many large hotel chains also use to prevent falls.
“We look forward to continuing our fight for justice for Chloe Wiegand and to make cruise ships safer,” she said.
Anello, of Valparaiso, Indiana, was sentenced in February 2021 to three years probation after pleading guilty to negligent homicide in Chloe’s death, according to Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice.
The case is Wiegand et al v Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-12596.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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