The family of Chloe Wiegand, a toddler who fatally plunged 150 feet to her death from an 11th-story window of Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas cruise ship, is seeking to sanction the cruise line.
The family alleges “spoiltation” of video footage of the incident that was requested by the plaintiffs and the U.S. Coast Guard.
A series of motions filed this week claim Royal Caribbean “knowingly and intentionally destroyed critical CCTV footage of the time leading up to the incident,” which was “fatal” to its defense and would have exonerated Chloe’s devastated grandfather, Indiana resident Salvatore Anello.
The filing claims the cruise line’s “clear intent to deprive the plaintiffs of this critical information” warrants “the imposition of the harshest sanctions, including entry of default judgment against Royal Caribbean.”
On-board footage of the incident shows Anello alone on the deck with Chloe, who leads him toward the glass sides of the ships. Anello is then seen lifting the toddler up and sitting her down on a wooden handrail before she suddenly falls forward and disappears from view after trying to bang on the glass.
“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 told CBS News in an interview. “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.”
The family argues in the new filing that the incident was preventable due to the fact that Royal Caribbean knew that pool deck windows were a “fall hazard for small children,” that passengers were “sitting, standing and climbing on, over and across railings,” that parents “placed children on the railings and next to open windows” and that, even without being placed by adults, “children could still access the windows by climbing the furniture placed right next to the railings.”
“All of this was known because Royal Caribbean’s Guest Conduct Policy and crewmembers warned passengers of these dangers, and there were numerous incidents involving these hazardous circumstances, including one child’s near-fall incident merely two years before Chloe’s death,” the filing states. “However, Royal Caribbean chose to ignore those prior incidents and known hazards and consequently, this tragedy occurred. In the aftermath of this tragedy, Royal Caribbean’s strategy has become apparent.”
Among the evidence included in the new filings is a declaration from the boat’s former chief security officer, Elton Koopman, who said he “personally witnessed repeated incidents of fall hazards involving the pool deck windows.”
Koopman noted 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.”
According to the filing, both the Wiegand family and the Coast Guard made requests for the closed-circuit television footage surrounding the time of the incident in order to determine who opened the windows and why, and whether it was a crew member who should have been aware of Koopman’s warnings.
However, the filing claims that Capt. Frank Martinsen of Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas “ignored the Coast Guard’s question as to whether there was CCTV showing who opened the window” as well as its “request to provide them CCTV footage of the windows being opened.”
The filing adds that the Freedom of the Seas has at least one camera that would have clearly shown who opened and closed the windows, but that Royal Caribbean “just did not want this information to come to light.”
“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,” the filing continues. “Thereafter, Royal Caribbean knowingly and intentionally destroyed the remaining CCTV footage.”
The filing also states that Royal Caribbean admitted to receiving letters requesting the CCTV footage, but that it offers “no reasonable explanation” for its failure to preserve the footage.
“It is apparent that this critical evidence was destroyed in bad faith. The CCTV was destroyed because it was fatal to Royal Caribbean’s defense and would have exonerated Mr. Anello,” the filing continues. “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 that Royal Caribbean would allow. Only the harshest of sanctions can remedy the extreme prejudice suffered by the Wiegands.”
The Wiegand family’s attorney, Michael Winkleman, said in a statement that they were “pleased that the criminal proceedings have finished and resulted in no jail time and no admission of facts for Chloe’s grandfather” and that there was “not a single piece of evidence to support the argument that Salvatore Anello was aware the window was open.”
“Instead, the evidence is clear that Mr. Anello made an honest mistake, but because of Royal Caribbean’s failure to take any steps to protect its youngest passengers, it turned into a fatal tragedy,” Winkleman said.
A spokesperson for Royal Caribbean did not immediately respond to FOX News’ request for comment.
A trial for the case is set to begin April 26.