Oscar-winning actress-turned-businesswoman Gwyneth Paltrow appeared in court this week in a civil trial 2016 collision with another skier at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. The case raises the question of who is liable when a skier hits another on the slopes.
His position on the Hill with plaintiff Terry Sanderson could determine whether he should be ordered to pay millions in damages.
In 2019, Deer Valley is the guest sued Paltrow, claiming she was skiing recklessly and crashed into him from above, causing serious, permanent injuries and emotional distress. Paltrow later fired back, claiming that Sanderson was the one who hit her from behind.
Paltrow, who founded wellness and lifestyle brand GOOP, alleged — and some legal experts speculated — that Sanderson sued her in an attempt to exploit her fame and wealth.
“He wanted Ms. Paltrow to pay him millions. If he didn’t pay, he would face negative publicity as a result of his allegations,” his attorneys wrote in a 2019 court filing.
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Uphill or downhill?
In any case, it depends on which of the two parties acted unreasonably when the case was decided.
“When one skier hits another, the issue is negligence. Did they do something wrong?” personal injury attorney Roger Cohn, Cohn Roth Law, told CBS MoneyWatch.
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.
“An uphill skier has to watch out for a downhill skier. If you overtake someone and hit them, chances are you’re responsible and guilty,” Cohn 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.
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, of 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.
Typically, a lawyer only gets involved if the defendant is wealthy or has homeowners insurance, according to Cohn.
“If you’re suing someone who doesn’t have homeowner’s 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 improperly or should have seen the other skier,” he added.
He said, he said
Cutt said he has tried dozens or more of these types of cases in Utah, and the verdict always depends on whether the jury believes the uphill and downhill skiers were.
“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 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 how not,” Cutt said. “And the fact that it’s Gwyneth Paltrow is the elephant in the room.”