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Elevator Accidents are Totally Preventable: Help Us Spread the Word

Andy CashMy partners and I became passionate about elevator safety after the Helvey family retained us as their lawyers. No child should ever be injured in a preventable elevator accident. My partners and I are family men, each with children, so these cases resonate even more for us.

We’ve presented evidence about the risk of serious elevator injuries to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington, D.C. It is our hope that the CPSC will institute a nationwide recall of defective elevators and institute change in the Elevator Safety Code going forward. Residential elevators should not cause life-shattering injuries.

We believe that one technologically and economically feasible change in contemporary residential elevator design will prevent future tragedies. Petitioning the government to change a regulation in residential elevator building codes is an important first step. But let’s be honest: very, very few members of the public would ever take notice of a short meeting between lawyers and the CPSC.

Elevator Safety in the News

Presenting evidence to the CPSC was an important day for my partners and me. The final result of our initial meeting may be a sweeping and vital safety change. In order to make elevator accidents a thing of the past, the public needs to know about the potential danger. In the midst of their investigation, the CPSC declared that the word about elevator dangers needed to be spread.

We reached out to an Atlanta reporter, Dana Fowle, and shared the Helvey’s story with her. The kind of elevator injuries Jacob Helvey sustained could happen to another child. Without proper design regulations, thousands of elevators share the same dangerous flaw. Members of the public — and the government — had no idea.

Dana Fowle is an investigative reporter with the Fox 5 I-Team. After we brought the hazards of residential elevators to her attention, she produced a five-part investigation. Ms. Fowle’s series did more to alert the public than our trip to Washington ever could have. She interviewed the Helveys, chronicling the round the clock caretaking Jacob now requires. We provided her with animation and video illustrating how children could become victims of horrific elevator accidents.

When the Helveys first shared their story, some people dismissed residential elevators as a frivolous amenity only the rich could afford. Yet the Helveys were not rich and the elevator was installed for use by Mike’s elderly mother, who lived with them.

As Dana pointed out in her series on elevator safety, residential elevators are increasingly common and affordable. Homes are more likely to grow up than out. An aging population enjoys convenience and continued independence with home elevators.

Shocked by Dana’s story about the Helveys and home elevators, Georgia State Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens took action. A bold, urgent letter was sent to 9,000 homeowners with a residential elevator alerting them to the danger. The state’s residential elevator committee planned to strategize how to keep children out of the dangerous space between doors.

In the end, Commissioner Hudgens proposed new changes in the state’s residential elevator code. At the July meeting to vote on the proposed changes, Dana’s first story was played for the committee. The committee voted quickly to approve. If the changes make it through two more votes, they will go into effect in January of 2015.

If Georgia makes the proposed changes, we will join Maine and Massachusetts in safer, stringent standards that improve upon inadequate national standards.

Dana Fowle won an Emmy for her inspiring, vital series. She gave it to the Helveys. Let’s hope we can give the Helveys something more — assurance that no other family has to suffer what they have because of Jacob’s elevator accident.

— Andy Cash

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