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Ski News: The Trial of the Season

The star actress maneuvers obstacles in the court room…

This year’s biggest event on the slopes did not take place at the Olympics or the X Games. It was a courtroom trial to settle a 2016 skiing incident involving actress Gwyneth Paltrow. It had all the requisite makings for a sensational tabloid drama, captivating viewers across the country. Accusations of the plaintiff chasing fame, or the bizarre questions during cross examination aside, the claims at the center of the lawsuit were serious. Accidents do occur on the ski slopes and can result in significant injuries. Lawsuits determining potential negligence on the skis are not courtroom farces, but a routine practice to hold liable parties accountable. 

The Incident 

In 2016, Gwyneth Paltrow was involved in a collision on the slopes of The Deer Valley Ski Resort in Utah with a retired optometrist Terry Sanderson. Mr. Sanderson suffered a concussion and broken ribs because of the incident. In 2019, Mr. Sanderson filed a civil suit against Ms. Paltrow and her ski instructor seeking $3.1 Million in damages, which was reduced to $300,000.00 

The lawsuit claimed that while skiing on a beginner run, Mr. Sanderson was struck by Ms. Paltrow who was also skiing on the same slope. He claimed that after the collision, Ms. Paltrow and her instructor just skied off and continued down the hill. Furthermore, he claimed that he sought medical attention after the incident and was diagnosed with a permanent traumatic brain injury and four broken ribs.  

In response to the lawsuit from Mr. Sanderson, Ms. Paltrow filed a countersuit seeking $1.00 (yes, you read that correctly, one dollar!) in damages plus attorneys’ fees, accusing Mr. Sanderson of being the party who had caused the crash due to his negligence. Ms. Paltrow claimed that she was with her ski instructor on the hill when she was suddenly struck by Mr. Sanderson. She also claimed that Mr. Sanderson apologized for the crash, and as a result she did not continue skiing for the remainder of that day.   

Importance of Expert Witnesses  

After two weeks of trial, there had been dozens of witnesses who offered testimony about who crashed into whom during the incident. There were various science and medical experts that were called to testify over the course of the trial, inclusive of a radiologist, a neurologist, neuropsychologist, a forensic psychologist, and a biomedical engineer who studies the biomechanics of alpine skiing. One important aspect of the case was determining who was the skier farther down the hill prior to the crash.  

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury deliberated for about two hours prior to returning to the courtroom with a verdict in the favor of Ms. Paltrow. The various experts’ testimonies were some of the aspects of the trial that allowed for the jury to rule in Ms. Paltrow’s favor. While this is a high-profile case, it is an example of how the proper use of expert testimony can be beneficial in a negligence case.  

Colorado Skiing Laws

Since the case was held in Utah, Colorado law would not apply, but due to the large number of skiers in Colorado it has become a popular topic in the state. Here in Colorado, Ski accidents happen all the time due to the large number of world class skiing that is available throughout the state. The Ski Safety Act is the governing legislation for ski area operators and skiers/snowboarders who use the ski areas in Colorado. The act defines the duties of ski area operators and riders and allows for a claim of negligence to be brought against either one who has breached their duty defined by the Act.  The Ski Safety Act was put in place to establish reasonable safety standards for the operation of ski areas and for the skiers using them.

Click here for more information on Ski Accidents in Colorado.

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