Royal Caribbean lied to the U.S. Coast Guard and ‘intentionally destroyed’ security footage to evade responsibility for Chloe Wiegand’s fatal plunge from the 11th deck of a cruise ship, the toddler’s family allege in a scathing new court filing.
Grieving parents Alan and Kimberly Wiegand have asked the judge in their long-running negligence lawsuit to enter a default judgement in their favor for ‘spoliation of evidence.’
In a series of motions obtained by DailyMail.com they claim Royal Caribbean wiped video footage that was ‘fatal’ to its defense and would have exonerated Chloe’s devastated grandfather, Salvatore Anello.
If they succeed, the case will go directly to a jury to decide on damages that could run into tens of millions of dollars just as the cruise operator battles to stay afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Anello avoided jail this week when he was sentenced to three years probation for accidentally dropping his 18-month-old granddaughter through an open window as the Freedom of the Seas docked in San Juan in July 2019.
He admitted a misdemeanor charge of negligent homicide but lawyers for the elderly IT worker say he only pleaded guilty to bring his exhausting criminal prosecution to an end and ensure he didn’t serve jail time in Puerto Rico.
The Wiegands continue to blame Royal Caribbean for the tragedy, arguing there were no signs or notices to warn Anello that the ‘wall of glass’ he was holding Chloe against on the ship’s pool deck contained individual panes that could be slid open.
Despite the windows having handles and a blue-green tint, the devastated grandpa has argued it was far harder for him to distinguish between a glass pane and thin air because he is color blind.
In the latest round of filings, the couple’s lawyers present evidence that they say proves Royal Caribbean ‘chose to ignore’ the ‘clear, known’ dangers posed by their windows and instead chose to defend the case by blaming Anello and destroying evidence.
This includes a declaration from Elton Koopman, the boat’s former Chief Security Officer, in which he admits that he ‘personally witnessed repeated incidents of fall hazards involving the pool deck windows.’
Koopman says he ‘attended numerous safety meetings where such fall hazards were discussed, and he contributed in the effort to rectify the hazard by keeping the windows closed and warning passengers.’
The Wiegands therefore want to determine who opened the windows and why, and whether it was a crew member who should have been aware of Koopman’s warnings.
That’s something they will never be able to establish, however, because Royal Caribbean allegedly destroyed CCTV evidence, according to the motion.
‘Less than 48 hours after the incident, on July 9, 2019, plaintiff’s counsel requested in writing that Royal Caribbean preserve ‘any and all video depicting the area of the incident for 12 hours prior to the incident,’ their filing states.
‘Again the following day, on July 10, 2019, the Coast Guard requested CCTV footage showing who opened the window and when it was opened.
‘The Captain ignored the Coast Guard’s question as to whether there was CCTV showing who opened the window. And the Captain ignored the Coast guard’s request to provide them CCTV footage of the windows being opened.’
The Freedom of the Seas has multiple on-deck CCTV cameras which would clearly have provided the answers the Coast Guard was looking for, the filing goes on.
‘Instead, Royal Caribbean reviewed the footage requested, unilaterally determined it was not relevant, and retained only the 30 minutes of footage prior to the incident from the two cameras that captured the incident.
‘Thereafter, Royal Caribbean knowingly and intentionally destroyed the remaining CCTV footage.’
The Wiegands say the issue is crucial because, if it was indeed a crew member who ignored safety orders and left the window open, Royal Caribbean’s liability for the 150ft horror plunge would be indisputable.
In the absence of that critical evidence, their attorneys have asked US District Judge Donald L. Graham to apply the ‘harshest of sanctions’ by deciding the case in the grieving couple’s favor.
‘The CCTV was destroyed because it was fatal to Royal Caribbean’s defense and would have exonerated Mr. Anello,’ the motion concludes.
‘The video likely shows that a crewmember opened the window and thus created the very condition that led to Chloe’s death. This is not a narrative Royal Caribbean would allow.’
Judge Donald is expected to take several months to rule on the motion, which would pave the way to a jury awarding ‘unlimited’ damages to police officer Alan, 42, and his attorney wife Kimberly, 38, of South Bend, Indiana.
They have always maintained, however, that their sole motivation is to force Royal Caribbean to make windows safer on their globetrotting fleet of ships so that the Freedom of the Seas tragedy is never repeated.
Angelic Chloe and her granddad were about to embark on a seven-night Caribbean cruise with her parents, older brother, fraternal grandparents and Anello’s wife Patricia, when the tragedy unfolded.
Their vacation was supposed to take in the sun-drenched sights of San Juan, St Maarten, St Kitts, Antigua, St Lucia and Barbados but it ended in horror before the $800m vessel had even set sail.
Haunting on-board camera footage of the incident shows Anello alone on deck with Chloe, who leads her grandfather away from the H20 zone splash pool towards the glass sides of the ship.
He lifts the toddler up and sits her down on a wooden handrail but suddenly she tumbles forwards as she tries to bang on the glass and disappears from view.
‘All I know is I was trying to reach the glass and I know that we leaned over to try to have her reach the glass, at that point she slipped,’ Anello said in an interview with CBS.
‘Chloe being gone is the worst thing ever so I’m like, whatever, you know. There’s nothing worse that they could do to me than what’s already happened.’
Royal Caribbean has insisted Anello would only have had to rely on his basic senses to know the window was ajar.
The firm are yet to respond to the latest motion.
‘Royal Caribbean knowingly and intentionally destroyed this critical CCTV footage of the time leading up to the incident,’ the family’s attorney, Michael Winkleman said in a statement.
‘As argued, Royal Caribbean’s clear intent to deprive the Wiegand family of this critical evidence warrants the imposition of harsh sanctions including entry of default judgment against Royal Caribbean.’