Reno Mahe family sues companies over blinds that led to death of 3-year-old daughter

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah -- Former BYU running backs coach Reno Mahe and his wife have filed a lawsuit naming several companies in the death of their daughter Elsie, who died of strangulation after becoming entangled in window blinds in 2016.

According to documents filed in Third District Court Thursday, the Mahe family is suing several companies involved in the manufacture of the window coverings in question.

The lawsuit names Blindvision, Century Blinds, Hunter Douglas Inc., Hunter Douglas Fabrication Company, Turnils North America Inc., and Does I-X.

The plaintiffs seek relief on grounds of product liability, negligence and  breach of warranty in regard to the window coverings. The plaintiffs claim in the suit that the defendants negligently allowed the product to be sold "without mechanisms to prevent the possibility of strangulation."

They also claim it was negligent for the product to contain cords capable of reaching a length greater than 7.25 inches, which they say "pose an unreasonable risk of strangulation." They further allege the defendants failed to put warnings on the product or provide users with adequate information regarding strangulation hazards.

They further claim it was negligent to include a "lift cord system that would eliminate cord hazards and/or the risk of strangulation" or implement redesigns or recalls of the product.

The Mahe family is seeking special damages for medical bills, funeral costs and other related expenses as well as general damages for the loss of their loved one, the pain and suffering she experienced, and any punitive damages allowed under the law. They also seek damages to cover legal costs.

The plaintiffs are requesting a trial by jury.

Fox 13 news spoke to the Mahe’s attorney, Alan W. Mortensen.

“The heart of it is to let the public know from the loss of Elsie is that this is a danger and can be easily fixed with cordless blinds, which cost pennies on a blind to remedy.”

Mahe coached at BYU at the time of Elsie's death, and there was an outpouring of support from the Provo and BYU communities. Mahe left BYU in December of last year. 

Fox 13 reached out to the companies named in the lawsuit. We only heard back from Hunter Douglas who says they do not comment on active litigation.

Sunny Mahe sent Fox 13 the following statement:

"Most things do not become your fight until they happen to you. But after they do, you then have the choice: do I leave it alone and just try to move on, or do I now try to make it so that this does not happen again to someone else?

I have struggled with this dilemma for months as I have taken the former road and concentrated on healing for myself and my family. But in the meantime, the same trauma has happened to others. Am I now complicit because I knew about this hazard and I said nothing because I chose to focus on other things?

Did you know that there is a child safety mechanism that can be manufactured into window blinds coverings that can make the string pull away from the blinds if enough force is pulled against it? Did you know that it only costs pennies per blind to implement this manufacturing change? But because of the expense of those pennies, these blinds continue to be manufactured and sold exactly as they are - to save pennies per blind. I didn’t know that before. But I do now.

I never dreamed that this could happen. The worst I thought could happen with my children touching the blinds would be damaging the blinds - because they were expensive. But these companies do know the dangers that these products are to children. Elsie was not the first child to die this way, nor is ours the first family to bring these hazards to the attention of the manufacturers after their passing.

I would like to impact change in this industry that sells products that are dangerous to children and could be made less so, but they won’t be because of the cost. I believe that my cost was greater than theirs. I don’t know of a better way to make them listen; they don’t listen to anything but the bottom line.

As our attorneys have been gathering information for the past year, I have been aggressively avoiding the subject and trying my hardest to pretend that this lawsuit was not really going to happen. It is painful to relive and I knew that the public perception would be that I was exploiting my daughter for financial gain. That feels really gross, but I cannot help what others opinions will be. And so, though I have tried so very hard, I cannot hide from this fight anymore. I could never look at another mother in the eyes who lost their child in this way knowing I could have made a difference if I had tried, but I was too scared of the negative backlash.

I will continue to focus on the peace that I feel through the atonement and the hope in Christ, but I will also hope for change so that no one else will experience the horror of discovering their child in this way."