Academy Award-winning actress turned businesswoman Gwyneth Paltrow appears in court this week in a civil trial over a…at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. The lawsuit raises questions about who is responsible when one skier collides with another on the slopes.
inAttorneys for Paltrow and plaintiff Terry Sanderson painted their clients as conservative skaters who were stunned when the other end collided with them from above. Sanderson’s attorney described Paltrow as wealthy and out of touch, while Paltrow’s attorney questioned Sanderson’s memory, citing his age of 76 and previous traumatic brain injuries.
Attorneys say it is Paltrow’s position on the mountain with regard to Sanderson that will likely determine whether or not she is ordered to pay up to millions in damages.
Deer Valley guestIn 2019, claiming that she was skiing recklessly and collided with him from above, causing severe and permanent injuries and psychological distress. Paltrow later responded, claiming that it was Sanderson who hit her from behind.
Paltrow, who founded wellness and lifestyle brand GOOP, has alleged — and some legal experts speculate — that Sanderson sued her in an effort to exploit her fame and fortune.
“He has asked Ms. Paltrow to pay him millions. If she does not pay, she will face negative publicity over his allegations,” her lawyers wrote in a 2019 court note.
uphill or downhill?
In any case, the case hinges on which of the parties acted unreasonably while on the sled.
“When one skater bumps into another, it’s about carelessness. Did they do something wrong?” Personal injury attorney Roger Kohn, of Kohn Roth Law, told CBS MoneyWatch.
With regard to behavior on the ski slopes, it is always the duty of an up-and-coming skier to beware of a downhill skier. In other words, the downhill skier—the person furthest off the slope—has the right of way.
Kuhn added, “A hard-core skier should beware of a downhill skier. If you overtake someone and hit them, you’re likely to be liable and at fault.”
According to the National Ski Areas Association’s Liability Act, which governs ski resorts in North America, “People in front of you or downhill from you have the right of way. You should avoid them.”
Skaters also must “always stay in control” and be able to stop to avoid other people.
Snowboarding collisions are not uncommon and when injuries do occur, lawyers sometimes get involved.
Some lawyers base their entire careers on skiing accidents, Brian “Butch” Peterson, a veteran Colorado ski instructor, told CBS MoneyWatch. He added that he once saw a woman hit a skier who came “burst off a tree path” in Vail, Colorado.
But unlike this accident, most skiing accidents are not caused by skiers or snowboarders colliding. Occurs when skaters hit a tree or other type of obstacle.
There were 57 fatal accidents reported during the 2021-2022 ski season, according to the NSAA, with most resulting from skiers hitting trees. Males account for 95% of all deaths. Another 54 “catastrophic” incidents were also reported during the same season.
Most homeowners insurance policies also include general liability coverage that essentially follows the homeowner even when they are outside of their residence, including when they are 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 it also covers you if you’re in the grocery store and you run into a kid with a shopping cart, and it covers you,” said David Katt, of Cott, Kendel & Olson in Salt Lake City, Utah. ”
“That’s what happens here. In this case, if Paltrow has homeowners coverage, that steps in and pushes a settlement or judgment within the policy limits,” he said.
Typically, an attorney only gets involved if the defendant is wealthy or has homeowners insurance, according to Kuhn.
“If you sue someone who doesn’t have homeowners coverage, it’s a waste of time,” he said.
But, he added, if they had insurance, that policy would be activated, and the insurance company would defend and pay the claim.
It is not always the case that one party is negligent in a collision between two people.
“But there is a clear case of liability if you can show that the other skater was skating too fast, behaving inappropriately or should have seen the other skater,” he said.
He said she said
Katt said he’s tried a dozen or more of these types of cases in Utah, and the verdict always rests on who the jury thinks are the uphill and downhill skiers.
“In this experiment, Sanderson says he was a downhill skier and I believe him from behind, and she says just the opposite—she was skiing along, and you might just hit her from the top of the hill,” Cat said.
“What it will end up being is that the jury will hear everyone about the crash itself and its aftermath and decide who they think is credible and who isn’t,” Katt said. “And the fact that it’s Gwyneth Paltrow is the big elephant in the room.”
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