Ski Collision with Gwyneth Paltrow: When two skiers crash, who’s at fault?
Oscar-winning actress-turned-businesswoman Gwyneth Paltrow appeared in court this week in a civil lawsuit for a Collision with another skier in 2016 at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. The lawsuit raises questions about who is responsible when one skier hits another on the slopes.
Her location on the mountain in relation to plaintiff Terry Sanderson could determine whether or not she will be ordered to pay him up to millions in damages.
In 2019, the guest of Deer Valley continued Paltrow, claiming she was skiing recklessly and rammed him from above, causing him serious and permanent injury and emotional distress. Paltrow later counterattacked, claiming it was Sanderson who hit her from behind.
Paltrow, who founded wellness and lifestyle brand GOOP, has alleged — and some legal experts are speculating — that Sanderson sued her in an attempt to exploit her fame and wealth.
“He demanded that Ms. Paltrow pay him millions. If she failed to pay, she would face negative publicity as a result of her allegations,” his lawyers wrote in a 2019 court filing.
Ascent or descent?
Either way, the case hinges on which of the two parties acted unreasonably while on skis.
“When one skier hits another, the problem is negligence. Did they do something wrong?” personal injury attorney Roger Cohn of Kohn Roth Law told CBS MoneyWatch.
When it comes to driving on the ski slopes, it is almost always the duty of the uphill skier to beware of the downhill skier. In other words, the downhill skier — the person further down the slope — has the right of way.
“The uphill skier has to be careful of the downhill skier. If you pass someone and you hit them, chances are you are responsible and at fault,” Cohn added.
According to the National Ski Areas Association’s Code of Responsibility, which governs ski resorts in North America, “People ahead or downhill have the right of way. You must avoid them.”
Skiers must also “always be in control” and be able to stop to avoid others.
Skiing collisions are not uncommon and when injuries result, lawyers sometimes step in.
“Some lawyers have based their whole careers on ski accidents,” Bryn “Butch” Peterson, a veteran ski instructor from Colorado, told CBS MoneyWatch. He added that he once saw a woman get hit by a skier who “came off a forest trail” in Vail, Colorado.
But unlike this incident, most skiing accidents are not caused by skier-skier or skier-boarder collisions; they occur when skiers hit a tree or some other type of obstacle.
According to the NSAA, 57 fatal incidents were reported during the 2021-2022 ski season, most of which resulted from skiers hitting trees. Men accounted for 95% of all deaths. There were 54 other “catastrophic” incidents reported during the same season.
Most home insurance policies also include general liability coverage that essentially follows a 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 house or on your property and someone gets hurt and chases you, but it also tracks you if you’re at the grocery store and you run over a kid with it. a caddy, and it covers ski collision claims,” said David Cutt, of Cutt, Kendell and Olson in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“So that’s what’s happening here. In this case, if Paltrow has coverage for homeowners, then that steps in and pays a settlement or judgment within the limits of the policy,” he said.
Typically, a lawyer would only get involved if the defendant is wealthy or has homeowners insurance, according to Cohn.
“If you’re suing someone who doesn’t have home insurance, it’s a waste of time,” he said.
But, he added, if they have insurance, that policy will come into effect and the insurer will defend the claim and pay it.
It is not always the case that one party is negligent in a two-person collision.
“But there is a clear case of liability if you can show that the other skier was skiing too fast, acting badly or should have seen the other skier,” he added.
He said she said
Cutt said he had judged dozens or more such cases in Utah and the judgment always hinged on who the jury thought the uphill and downhill skiers were.
“In this lawsuit, Sanderson says he was the downhill skier and she hit him from behind, and she says the exact opposite – that she was skiing and he rammed her from the climb,” said Cutt said.
“So it’s going to come down to the fact that the jury is going to listen to everyone about the collision itself and the aftermath and decide who they think is believable and who isn’t,” Cutt said. “And the fact that it’s Gwyneth Paltrow is the big elephant in the room.”