In a tragic incident on July 7th, 2019, an 18-month-old fell to her death from a window 11 stories up on a Royal Caribbean International cruise ship. According to reports, her grandfather had placed her on a railing next to the window, assuming it was closed. She is said to have loved banging on glass at her brother’s hockey games, and the grandfather wanted to let her play. The window he chose happened to be the single pane in a wall made almost entirely of glass that happened to be open.
It gets even worse, though. As if suffering the death of his granddaughter was not enough, in the aftermath of the incident, the grandfather was arrested on charges of negligent homicide for his role in her death.
Are Grandfather’s Charges in Granddaughter’s Cruise Death Valid?
Experts are split on whether the charges are valid or not. While some believe that the man was rightfully charged, as he did not check for glass before setting her down, others disagree. Peter Scharf, in an NBC article about the tragedy, states that in a case where a child has died, often people feel the urge to “blame someone, even if it’s not legally appropriate.”
This urge to blame comes with a split record on actual judgment – two nearly-identical cases in Mississippi for negligent homicide by a parent resulted in very different outcomes: one parent was indicted, while one was not. When tragedies like this occur, it seems to be a crapshoot as to whether the jury places blame on the caregiver in the case of a truly accidental fatal incident involving a child.
Dead Toddler’s Family Places Blame Elsewhere
One group that is emphatically not placing blame with the grandfather is the deceased girl’s family. They see his charge and subsequent arrest as an additional tragedy. The girl’s mother goes so far as to say that the grandfather never would have knowingly placed any of her children in danger. Instead, the family is pressing civil charges against Royal Caribbean for negligence. Specifically, they are suing due to the cruise line’s failure to follow proper window safety guidelines.
How so? Their argument is that a window 115 feet in the air might be reasonably expected to have a screen in it, should it be open. In a quote given to the BBC, the deceased girl’s father said, “The family needs answers as to why there would be an open window in a wall full of fixed windows in a kids’ play area? Why would you have the danger without any warning, sign, or notice?”
Will Royal Caribbean Be Found Liable in Toddler’s Death?
While the cruise ship company will likely argue that the railing was intended to be the safety guard, the windows were in a pool play area filled with children. Under US law, there is a greater duty to add safety measures on the part of a business when children are present. Especially in an active play area, this duty is paramount.
Of course, cruise lines aren’t necessarily bound by US law – but even they have a duty of care to maintain. Even with the best of supervision, it seems possible – even likely – that eventually a child might get too close to the window and potentially fall.
In another case regarding window falls, even the presence of a screen was not enough to prevent companies charged with negligence from being held liable. It would only make sense that a wide-open, unmarked window 11 stories up could also be considered negligent.
Regardless of who was at fault in this situation, the girl’s death was a tragedy. However, it seems like there is a strong argument that the cruise line was at fault in this situation due to the complete lack of notice regarding the open window more than a hundred feet up. What will happen? Only time will tell.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Winston Law. For over 20 years, he has successfully represented countless people in all kinds of personal injury cases, with a particular focus on child injury, legal malpractice, and premises liability. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Preeminent Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, enjoys a 10.0 rating by AVVO as a Top Personal Injury Attorney, has been selected as a Florida “SuperLawyer” from 2011-2017 – an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state – and was voted to Florida Trend’s ”Legal Elite” and as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Florida and one of the Top 100 Lawyers in the Miami area for 2015, 2016, and 2017.