Back in September 2015, Bill and I had the experience of a lifetime. We went to Tarrenz, Austria and swam naked in a big vat of hot beer.
Okay… so it wasn’t beer like you and I might think of it. It was actually wort that was in a huge vat that was once used for brewing Starkenberger beer. It was just the two of us. No lifeguard was on duty. We were allowed to drink as much beer as we wanted. All we had to do was be done by 10:00pm… and even that was negotiable.
There wasn’t a single sign on the wall warning us of no lifeguard on duty. I don’t think we even had to sign any legal disclaimers or waivers. We just handed over the 250 euros it cost for our experience, and off we went. It was glorious! We had a great time. I will NEVER forget it. I distinctly remember thinking it was refreshing to be treated like someone with a brain and common sense. It occurred to me that over here in “the old country”, people are expected to take some responsibility for themselves. That’s what keeps things fun for everyone.
Do people over here get sued for negligence? Sure, they do. But generally speaking, I have noticed that people are also expected not to be idiots. If you do something stupid and get hurt, you can expect little sympathy. It seems that in the United States, people are often looking for reasons to sue, even when they’ve been partly at fault for their own misfortunes. Consequently, there’s a lot of “idiot proofing” that is done in the United States. Companies and, inevitably, their lawyers, are always looking for the next potential lawsuit and taking steps to guard themselves from them.
Strangely enough, our experience swimming unsupervised in warm beer wort came into my head this morning as I read about Salvatore Anello being sentenced for his part in a negligent homicide. Salvatore Anello made the news in July 2019, when he accidentally killed his 18 month old granddaughter, Chloe Wiegand.
Anello and his family were cruising on Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas cruise ship on July 7, 2019 when they were docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Chloe liked to bang on the glass at the hockey games her brother played in Indiana. For some strange reason, Mr. Anello decided to place Chloe on a railing near a window in a children’s area on the ship. Thinking there was glass in the window, Mr. Anello tried to let Chloe “bang” on it, as if they were at a hockey game. But there was no glass, and before he knew what had happened, Chloe had fallen to her death, eleven stories below.
Mr. Anello was arrested by Puerto Rican authorities and charged with negligent homicide. However, Chloe’s family maintained that the cruise line was negligent, because they thought there was glass in the window. The family decided to sue Royal Caribbean, claiming that Chloe’s death is the cruise line’s fault for “not having a safer situation on the 11th floor of that cruise ship.” Chloe’s mother, Kim Wiegand adds, “There are a million things that could’ve been done to make that safer.”
Perhaps that’s true. However, the number one thing that could and should have been done to keep the toddler girl safe is not making the decision to put her on the railing in the first place. Clearly, the railing is NOT intended for children to be climbing on or set upon, and clearly glass windows were never meant to be banged upon. Why in the hell would anyone ever encourage their child to bang on a glass window in the first place? At best, it’s noisy and annoying. At worst, it can lead to a terrible injury or death.
Let me be clear. I am glad Mr. Anello is not going to be serving any jail time. He took a plea deal, so he will be on probation for three years in his home state of Michigan. I think that’s a just punishment. I don’t think he’s a bad person and I don’t think he will reoffend. And I am absolutely certain that this accident has been devastating on many levels. However, I do think it’s in very bad taste to sue Royal Caribbean, unless the family is ONLY doing it to get the cruise line to change policies, and not looking for a payday. There is no doubt in my mind that Royal Caribbean executives are already doing what they can to idiot proof their ships even more against people like Salvatore Anello, who apparently lost his grip on common sense while cruising. He says he wasn’t drinking. Thank God for that. If Anello makes these kinds of decisions while sober, I would hate to see what he does when he’s been drinking alcohol.
Chloe Wiegand would probably still be alive if her grandfather had not made the poor decision to put her on that railing… a place that is clearly not intended to be sat upon or walked on by anyone, especially children. She probably would not have died if he hadn’t decided to encourage her to bang on glass, as if she was at a hockey game. My God… they were on a mass market cruise line! Couldn’t they have participated in some other safe, kid-friendly, cruise line approved and promoted activity?
I have only cruised on Royal Caribbean once, but I know from that experience that there are many child friendly activities. If Chloe had gotten hurt or killed while taking part in a child friendly activity that was previously deemed safe, maybe I could see her family’s decision to hold Royal Caribbean responsible. But she wasn’t. She was doing something that she shouldn’t have been doing, mainly because the adult responsible for her care was negligent. Or, at least, that is the impression I get when I read about this sad case. Nowhere have I read that Royal Caribbean encourages people to put toddlers on railings eleven stories up from the dock. Most people have enough common sense not to do that. Most people don’t need that much idiot proofing.
Having written all of that, I do feel very sorry for Chloe’s family. I’m sure this was heartbreaking for them. They will never, ever forget it, and life will never be the same as it was. I’m sure they feel guilty. Or, I hope they do. If I were one of them, I think I’d be very ashamed of myself on many levels. But I would also feel sad beyond belief and, if I know myself, I’d probably wonder if I wanted to go on living. Hell, I wonder that now, and I don’t even have children. I might be angry that there was no glass in the window, but when it came down to it, I think I’d know that I shouldn’t have put a toddler on a railing and encouraged her to bang on non-existent glass. That’s just stupid. But, if the family’s goal was to make cruise lines dream up more disclaimers and liability waivers for passengers, I think they succeeded. And, if it makes them feel better, I’m sure Royal Caribbean will make sure to put glass in all windows… and hang more signs and make more rules. That’s if the business survives the pandemic.
Speaking of idiocy and the pandemic… this morning I read an opinion piece in The Washington Post by Michele L. Norris, who seems dismayed that there were a bunch of optical illusions and cardboard cutouts of people in the stands at the Super Bowl. Ms. Norris expressed disapproval that the show was engineered to make it look like the stadium, which holds 65,000 people, was packed with happy fans cheering at the annual football game.
This year, thanks to COVID-19, there weren’t many people watching the game live. Norris writes that there were only 25,000 fans at the game, 7,500 of whom were vaccinated healthcare workers. Fans who weren’t able to make the game were allowed to pay $100 to have cardboard cutouts of themselves put in the seats. They could then check the “fan cam” to see their cardboard visages on camera.
Norris writes that this plan, which was supposed to give the illusion of a packed stadium, caused America to “suffer a loss”. She writes that we’re long used to not seeing packed stands. And the message should have been to “stay home and stay safe”. Evidently, this is more important than ever, since the game was played in Tampa, Florida, where people have been very lax about COVID-19 guidelines.
I don’t actually give a shit about the Super Bowl. I don’t watch it, even when there isn’t a pandemic. And I agree that people should be encouraged to be safe and responsible about preventing the spread of COVID-19. But I want to know– does Michele Norris really think that seeing stands with cardboard cut outs of fans is encouraging Americans to break COVID-19 protocol? Really?
I don’t know about you, but I have about had it with all the preaching and shaming about COVID-19. I really have. That’s not the same as not taking the virus seriously. I do take it seriously and have from the beginning of this fiasco. It’s true that I hate the masks and rarely wear them, but that’s because I’m ALWAYS AT HOME. If I weren’t always at home, I would follow the rules. I would hate following the rules, but I would comply with them. And it would not bother me at all, if I cared about football, to see a bunch of cardboard cutouts of people at the Super Bowl, nor would I care that the sound of the crowds were augmented to enhance the effects. We know a pandemic is going on. It’s been hammered in our heads for months. I don’t think seeing cardboard cutouts of fans is going to make the COVID situation worse. That’s just dumb.
I think, if I was going to complain about something related to the Super Bowl, it might be the creepy jockstrap halftime show. Yes, I know they weren’t jockstraps on the performers’ faces, but so many people thought they looked like jockstraps. I saw photos of the spectacle. It doesn’t look appealing to me. But then, pretty much everything about live entertainment and sports events has been fucked up this year. I don’t think I would be outraged over the illusion of a packed stadium. People are starved for fun. I know I am. But then, maybe Michele L. Norris has a point… maybe Americans really do require idiot proofing more than other people do. After all, a company is being sued because a grandfather wanted to let his 18 month old granddaughter bang on glass while on an eleventh story railing.
Featured photo is of me, in the buff at an Austrian death trap. We had a ball! No lifeguard on duty… and none required.