Gwyneth Paltrow ski lawsuit: When two skiers collide, who is at fault?
Oscar-winning actress-turned-businesswoman Gwyneth Paltrow appeared in court this week in a civil lawsuit. Collision with another skier in 2016 at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. The lawsuit raises questions about who is liable when one skier hits another on the slopes.
Her position on the mountain in relation to plaintiff Terry Sanderson may determine whether or not she is ordered to pay him millions in damages.
In 2019, visitors to Deer Valley Paltrow sued, claiming that she was skiing recklessly and crashed into him from above, causing serious, permanent injuries and emotional distress. Paltrow later retaliated, claiming it was Sanderson who hit her from behind.
Paltrow, who founded the wellness and lifestyle brand GOOP, has alleged — and some legal experts have speculated — that Sanderson sued her in an attempt to exploit her fame and wealth.
“He demanded Ms. Paltrow pay him millions. If she did not pay, he would face negative publicity as a result of his allegations,” his lawyers wrote in a 2019 court filing.
Up or down?
In any case, the case depends 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?” Roger Cohen, a personal injury attorney at Cohen Roth Law, told CBS MoneyWatch.
As far as behavior on the ski slopes is concerned, it is almost always the duty of the uphill skier to be careful 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 watch out for the downhill skier. If you’re overtaking someone and hitting them, you’re likely to be responsible and at fault,” Cohen added. ” added Cohen.
According to the responsibility code of the National Ski Areas Association, which governs ski resorts in North America, “People ahead of you or downhill have the right of way. You must avoid them.”
Skiers must also be able to “always stay in control” and stop to avoid other people.
Ski collisions are not uncommon, and when injuries occur, lawyers sometimes get involved.
“Some lawyers base their entire careers on ski accidents,” Brian “Butch” Patterson, a veteran Colorado ski instructor, told CBS MoneyWatch. He added that he once saw a woman hit by a skier who had come “coming out of a tree trail” in Vail, Colorado.
But unlike this incident, most ski accidents are not caused by skier-skier or skier-snowboarder collisions. This happens when skiers hit a tree or 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 percent of all deaths. Another 54 “catastrophic” incidents were reported during the same season.
Most homeowners insurance policies also include general liability coverage that essentially follows the homeowner even when they are away from 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 hurts you and sues you, but if you’re at the grocery store and a kid runs over with a shopping cart. If there are, it follows you. Ski collision claims,” said David Kitt of Kitt, Kendall & Olson in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“So that’s what’s happening here. In this case, if Paltrow has homeowners coverage, he pays the settlement or judgment within the policy limits,” he said.
Generally, a lawyer is only involved if the defendant is wealthy or has homeowners insurance, according to Cohen.
“If you sue 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 it.
It is not always the case that one party is negligent in a conflict between two people.
“But there is a clear case of liability if you can show that the other skier was skiing too fast, was doing the wrong thing or should have seen the other skier,” he added.
He said, he said
Kitt said he’s tried dozens or more of these types of cases in Utah, and the verdict always depends on who the jury believes were the skiers up and down.
“In this lawsuit, Sanderson says he was going to ski downhill and she ran into him from behind, and she says the exact opposite — that she was skiing along and he plowed into it from above.”
“So what it’s going to come down to is, the jury itself is going to hear everyone about the collision and the aftermath and decide who they find credible and how they don’t,” Kitt said. “And the fact that it’s Gwyneth Paltrow is the big elephant in the room.”