Oscar-winning actress and businesswoman Gwyneth Paltrow is in court this week for a civil trial 2016 collision with another skierCollisions on slopes raise the question of who is legally liable.
inside Court reasoningLawyers for Paltrow, 50, and plaintiff Terry Sanderson, 76, portrayed their clients as skiers as they traded accusations about who was to blame for the accident at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah.
Paltrow Positioned Friday and denied he caused the accident.
“I did not engage in risky behavior,” he said in court on Friday.
“You skied right into my effing back,” he said later.
He previously described the incident, alleging that two of Sanderson’s skis appeared between his own legs as he felt his body weight on his back.
Under cross-examination, however, he said that he did not have any witnesses to the moment of the accident.
“I have many witnesses who saw (it) disintegrate a few seconds later, the position of the body on the hill that would indicate who hit whom,” Paltrow said. He also testified that he did not know Sanderson was injured and did not ask about his well-being because he thought the accident was relatively “minor.”
Paltrow’s ski instructor at the time of the incident, Deer Valley veteran Eric Christiansen, who has worked for the resort for nearly four decades, also claimed that Sanderson was responsible for the accident that left a beginner “entwined”. Ski run named Bandana.
“I saw him coming down the mountainside a lot faster than anyone else,” Christiansen said under oath Monday.
In the face of dual accounts of the accident, the case will likely turn on something more obvious, attorneys said: the skiers’ position on the mountain just before the accident.
Uphill or downhill?
Sanderson sued Paltrow in 2019, claiming that he was skiing recklessly and bumped into her from above, causing serious injuries and emotional distress. Paltrow later fired back, claiming that Sanderson was the one who hit her from behind.
Experts told CBS MoneyWatch that the case hinged on which of the two parties acted unreasonably during the ski.
“When one skier hits another, the issue is negligence. Did they do something wrong?” Personal injury attorney Roger Cohn of Cohn Wrath Law says.
As far as behaving on the ski slopes, it is almost always the uphill skier’s duty to be careful of the downhill skier. In other words, the downhill skier — the person further down the slope — has the right of way.
“Uphill skiers have to watch out for downhill skiers. If you overtake someone and hit them, you’re probably responsible and guilty,” Kohn added.
According to the National Ski Areas Association’s code of responsibility, which governs North American ski resorts, “People in front of you or downhill have the right of way. You must avoid them.”
Skiers must “always be in control” and be able to stop to avoid other people.
An animated recreation of the pair’s crash, which was presented in court Monday, showed the skiers’ positions relative to each other from Christiansen’s perspective. It also depicted Paltrow lying on top of Sanderson after the collision.
Christiansen explained that Paltrow could only have finished over Sanderson if she had been hit from behind.
Ski collisions are not uncommon and when injuries result, lawyers are sometimes involved.
“Some lawyers base their entire careers on ski accidents,” Brian “Butch” Peterson, a veteran Colorado ski instructor, told CBS MoneyWatch. He also added that he once saw a woman in Vail, Colorado, get hit by a skier after coming “blasting out of a tree line.”
But unlike that phenomenon, most ski accidents are not caused by skier-skier or skier-snowboarder collisions; They occur when skiers hit a tree or other type of obstacle.
According to the NSAA, there were 57 fatalities during the 2021-2022 ski season, most of which resulted from skiers hitting trees. Males represent 95% of all deaths. An additional 54 “catastrophic” incidents occurred during the same season.
Most homeowners insurance policies include general liability coverage that essentially follows a homeowner even when they’re away from their residence, like when they’re on skis.
“It covers you if there’s something dangerous in your home or on your property and someone gets hurt and sues you, but if you’re at the grocery store and a kid drives a shopping cart and it follows you and it covers a ski collision claim, ” says David Cutt, Cutt, Kendall & Olson in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“So here’s what’s going on. In this case, if Paltrow has homeowners coverage, she steps up and gets a settlement or judgment up to the policy limits,” he said.
According to Cohn, typically, a lawyer will only get involved if the defendant is wealthy or has homeowners insurance.
“If you’re suing someone who doesn’t have homeowners coverage, it’s a waste of time,” he said.
But, he added, if they have insurance, that policy will kick in, and the insurer will defend the claim as well as pay out.
Negligence of one party is not always the case in a conflict between two persons.
“But there is a clear case of liability if you can show that the other skier was skiing too fast, was acting inappropriately or should have seen the other skier,” he said.
He said, he said
Cutt said he’s tried a dozen or more of these cases in Utah, and the verdict always depends on whether the jury believes the uphill and downhill skiers were involved.
“At this trial, Sanderson said he was a downhill skier and she ran into him from behind, and he said just the opposite — that she was skiing along and he plowed into her downhill,” Cutt said.
“So what it’s going to come down to is, the jury itself is going to listen to everybody about the incident and the aftermath of the collision and decide who they find credible and who they don’t,” Cutt said. “And the fact that it’s Gwyneth Paltrow is the elephant in the room.”