SOUTH BEND — An attorney for the Granger family whose 18-month-old daughter died after falling from a cruise ship is disputing what authorities said happened and claims Royal Caribbean Cruise Line was negligent in the toddler’s death, citing a “hidden danger” on the ship.
Chloe Wiegand, the daughter of South Bend police officer Alan Wiegand, formerly of Angola, fell from the 11th deck of the Royal Caribbean ship Freedom of the Seas on Sunday. The ship was docked in San Juan and was scheduled to depart Sunday evening.
Initial reports from San Juan indicated the girl’s grandfather, Salvatore Anello, lost his grip while holding the girl. A spokesman for the local Port Authority told CNN the girl was playing with her grandfather in a dining hall on the 11th deck. The dining area has large windows, and one pane was open, according to that report.
The grandfather sat the girl in the window and lost his balance, CNN quoted the Port Authority spokesman saying, and the girl fell to her death.
The ship was docked in San Juan at the time.
Alan Wiegand is a graduate of Angola High School. His parents are Dr. Thomas and Maryann Wiegand of Angola. Other family members also live in Angola.
But at a Tuesday news conference, Michael Winkleman, a Miami attorney representing the family, said Anello was with Chloe in a children’s play area and lifted her onto a wooden railing to look out the window. It was a large wall of windows and Anello could not tell the pane was open, Winkleman said.
Chloe went to bang on the glass like she does at her 10-year-old brother’s hockey games, Winkleman said. He blamed the cruise line for having windows that passengers can open in a children’s play area.
“This was a tragic accident that was preventable,” he said. “This is a hidden danger.”
The attorney said he didn’t know why the original reports told a different account of the incident but pointed out that there is security footage from the ship he is waiting to receive.
When questioned about whether Anello should have put his granddaughter on the railing, Winkleman said it a was reasonable decision because Anello thought all the windows were closed. He gave the example of someone walking into a glass door thinking it is open.
Winkleman said windows aren’t a problem in newer ships because they can’t be opened by passengers, but the Freedom of the Seas was built in 2006. There should have been some form of warning sign that the windows could be open, Winkleman said.
The family is still in Puerto Rico waiting for Chloe’s body to be released by authorities. That was expected to happen Tuesday.
“They want to get home as quickly as possible,” Winkleman said.
There was not a clear answer Tuesday if the family plans to file a civil lawsuit against the cruise line, but Winkleman said he sees grounds for a lawsuit.
“I do see a terrible tragedy that could have been prevented,” he said.
Royal Caribbean Cruises said in a statement Monday that it does not plan to comment further on the incident out of respect for the family’s privacy: “We are deeply saddened by yesterday’s tragic incident, and our hearts go out to the family,” the statement says. “We’ve made our Care Team available to assist the family with any resources they need.”