Jury awards $25M to former BYU star in trial against blinds maker over daughter’s death

Reno Mahe sued the manufacturer in 2018 after his 3-year-old daughter died in 2016.

(Courtesy Steve Tate) Steve and Savanna Tate, left, and Sunny and Reno Mahe pose for a photo at the Miracles From Elsie Foundation fundraiser in July 2018. The Mahes were awarded $25 million by a jury this week in a wrongful death trial against a blinds manufacturer they allege created the faulty product that caused the death of their daughter Elsie in 2016.

The family of a 3-year-old girl who died in 2016 after she got tangled in blinds cords and suffered brain damage was awarded $25 million by a jury this week in a wrongful death trial against the blinds manufacturer.

Former BYU football player Reno Mahe and former BYU volleyball player Sunny Mahe had sued several window blinds companies in 3rd District Court for allegedly manufacturing and installing a faulty product that led to the death of their daughter Elsie Mahe in 2016.

The Mahes had sought punitive damages in addition to the $25 million in compensatory damages that a jury awarded them Tuesday. On Wednesday, Century Blinds Inc. decided to settle for a confidential amount in the punitive phase of the trial, said Alan Mortensen, an attorney for the Mahes. It is unclear whether that settlement will affect the previous judgment.

“No astronomical amount of money could ever compensate for the loss of Elsie,” Sunny Mahe said in a statement released Thursday, “and it feels repulsive that anyone would believe that it could. ... This win was for some future mother that I hope will never even know that this used to be a thing that could happen. We have done our part to protect other families from having to endure the loss that we have.”

When reached for comment Thursday, a representative with Custom Brands Group, which Century Blinds had merged with in 2020, said Century Blinds was no longer in business as of December. The initial complaint named several other defendants, but they were dismissed before the trial, Mortensen said.

Elsie got tangled in blinds cords in the family’s Lehi home on Nov. 22, 2016. Her mother found her with the cords wrapped around her neck and performed CPR until paramedics arrived.

The child was flown to Primary Children’s Hospital, where tests showed she had suffered extensive brain damage. After being placed on a ventilator and clinging to life for a week, Elsie died on Nov. 29, 2016. Her organs were donated.

“Our Elsie girl has officially been released to heaven — at least from a worldly, paperwork standpoint,” Sunny Tonga Mahe wrote at the time. “We feel peace and we are again so grateful for the privilege of being Elsie’s parents. She continues to sprinkle love and hope across the world.”

The Mahes filed suit in 2018, claiming that the blinds were faulty in that the manufacturers failed to install a safety mechanism to ensure the cords could not strangle a child. They sought an undetermined amount for emotional trauma. On Tuesday, the jury found that the window blinds in the Mahes’ home were “dangerously defective” and caused Elsie Mahe’s death.

Brighton High graduate Reno Mahe was a running back for the Cougars in 1998, 2001 and 2002. He spent five years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and returned to BYU as a running backs coach in 2016 and 2017. Sunny Mahe was an All-America member of the BYU volleyball team.

— Salt Lake Tribune reporter Scott D. Pierce contributed to this story.

Correction: Sept 22, 6:17 p.m. • An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the type of damages sought by the Mahe family.