PORTLAND (AP) – Otis Elevator Co. has converted hundreds of old-style elevator doors whose design has been linked to multiple deaths and injuries over decades.

The company launched a national campaign this winter to retrofit the doors as part of a lawsuit settlement with the family of an 8-year-old boy who was killed in an elevator in Bethel in August 2001.

Otis Elevator officials said Wednesday the company has manufactured and installed devices known as “space guards” on 300 elevator doors and received orders for about 900 more. The space guards are metal box-like devices that fill up excessive space between the elevators’ outer and inner doors so children can’t get trapped.

Otis spokeswoman Tizz Weber said most of the devices have been custom-made at Otis’ service center because the elevator doors are old and of varying sizes. She said the orders have come for an estimated 300 or 400 buildings, typically of three to five stories each.

“There are still orders coming in daily,” she said.

Tucker Smith was killed in a 1929 Otis elevator while on vacation with his parents and two sisters at the Bethel Inn and Country Club. He died of massive head trauma after getting trapped in a 71/2-inch space between the elevator’s outer swinging door and inner accordion-style door just as the elevator was called up to the floor above.

The family filed a lawsuit the following June against Otis Elevator, the Bethel Inn and Pine State Elevator, a Portland company that serviced and inspected the elevator.

An Associated Press analysis documented that the old-style elevators, which were popular before the 1950s, were potentially deadly and had killed at least nine people, all of them children, who had become trapped between the elevator doors. Experts said the number of fatalities was likely to be higher.

The analysis revealed that the elevator industry has known of the dangers for more than 70 years, and that most state and local regulatory agencies have not adopted standards to make the elevators safe.

Tucker’s parents, Jeffrey and Mary Smith of Bel Air, Md., dropped their lawsuit in exchange for $3 million and a plan by Otis to prevent future deaths on the elevators. The Smiths received $1 million, and their daughters received $500,000 each, which was put in trust accounts. The family’s attorneys received $1 million.

As part of the settlement, Otis Elevator, based in Farmington, Conn., mailed 20,000 letters to owners and managers of buildings where Otis swinging-door elevators might be located.

Otis agreed to install space guards at no cost on elevators it made or maintained.

The company also designed a program to be launched this summer to lobby state and local regulatory agencies and legislatures for new regulations to make the elevators safer. The company’s Web site contains a section with information about the space guards, safety recommendations and legislative updates.

Jeffrey and Mary Smith could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Terry Garmey, a Portland attorney who represented the couple, said he thinks Otis Elevator’s safety program has saved lives.

“I think what Otis has done on this is an example of what can happen through the civil justice system,” Garmey said.

Otis’ Web page features an open letter from Ray Moncini, president of Otis North and South America area, with a photograph of Tucker Smith.

Weber said the company is using Tucker’s picture there to drive home the point of the dangers of the elevators.

“We’re talking about a real boy here,” she said.



On the Net:

Otis Elevator Co.: www.otis.com

AP-ES-06-25-03 1535EDT



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