The family of an 18-month-old who fell to her death from an open window on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship is suing the cruise line for negligence. The lawsuit alleges that the cruise line did not properly mark the window areas, failed to provide reasonably safe children play areas, and did not meet industry standards regarding window fall prevention codes.
In July of 2019, while docked in Puerto Rico, the Weigand family’s 18-month-old daughter was being held by her grandfather near an open window on the cruise ship’s eleventh floor. The window was located on a wall of glass windows, and was open. However, the grandfather alleges that he was unaware the window was open when his granddaughter fell out.
Just days before what would have been their daughter’s second birthday, in December of 2019, the Weigand family filed their lawsuit against Royal Caribbean Cruises in federal court in Miami, Florida. The allegations address the ship that the family was on at the time of their daughter’s death – the Freedom of the Seas – alleging Royal Caribbean Cruises failed to comply with industry standards and window fall prevention laws regarding the Freedom of the Seas. Included in the complaint are photos of other cruise lines and their ships demonstrating they are in compliance with window fall prevention laws.
Prior to the civil lawsuit being filed, in October of 2019, Puerto Rican authorities filed charges against the grandfather, Salvatore Anello, charging him with negligent homicide. The Puerto Rican authorities allege they have video surveillance footage of the incident. If convicted, Anello could face up to three years in prison. Anello alleges he held up his granddaughter to bang on the window, as he often did with her while watching her older brother’s hockey games, not realizing the window was open.
“With a civil lawsuit pending in federal court in Miami, Florida, and criminal charges pending in Puerto Rico, the Wiegand’s situation gives rise to questions regarding what legal recourse is available to passengers involved in incidents that occur while on board a cruise ship,” stated personal injury attorney Darryl B. Kogan of Kogan & DiSalvo, P.A.
What laws apply to incidents involving passengers on a cruise? Given the nature of these vessels, the applicable laws regarding incidents that occur on a cruise ship are often fluid, with maritime laws quickly becoming complicated. Regarding Anello’s criminal charge, for example, the Freedom of the Sea was docked in a Puerto Rican port at the time of the tragic incident. This means that the Puerto Rican authorities were called to investigate, with their laws becoming paramount.
However, when a cruise ship is in international waters, the laws of the flag state generally apply. The flag state is the country under which the cruise ship company is registered. For example, if a cruise line company is registered in Bahama, in international waters, Bahamian law applies. Additionally, the flag state laws apply to labor laws and code regulations of the cruise ship company.
Passengers of a cruise ship who wish to file a lawsuit against the cruise ship company often find themselves bound by the fine print – in purchasing their cruise ticket they agree to be subject to the laws of a particular jurisdiction. In general, the county in which the cruise line company’s headquarters lies is where the lawsuit must be filed, regardless of where the injured passenger resides. Regarding the Wiegand’s situation, they reside in Indiana. However, they filed their lawsuit against Royal Caribbean Cruises in federal court in Miami, Florida, the location of Royal Caribbean Cruises’ headquarters.
Even when the issue of applicable law is settled, establishing a cruise line company is negligent can be a daunting process. In general, to establish legal negligence on the part of a cruise line company, a passenger must show the company owed the passenger a duty of care, that the cruise line’s conduct – or failure to act – was the proximate cause of an accident or incident, and that the passenger’s injuries resulted from this accident or incident. Whether or not the Wiegand’s have valid grounds for a claim remains to be seen.