Celebrity and Concussion Intersect on the Ski Slope

Mar 1, 2019

By James Moss
Gwyneth Paltrow is being sued for $3.1 million because of an alleged collision with another skier that led to a concussion.
The facts of this case are mostly coming from press releases issued by the injured plaintiff’s attorney and other articles. So what is true, real, exaggerated or made up will be decided many months from now. But based on the information that is available — however, valid it is — the following facts are being pled in the court of public opinion.
Gwyneth was skiing at Deer Valley Resort in Utah in February 2016. The plaintiff, a 72-year-old retired optometrist was allegedly skiing below Paltrow on a beginner slope. At a press conference, the plaintiff stated he was struck between his shoulder blades from behind, knocking him to the ground where he lost consciousness. The plaintiff suffered a brain injury, four broken ribs and other serious injuries. An acquaintance of the plaintiff who witnessed the event said it was Gwyneth Paltrow, who struck him.
Paltrow landed on the plaintiff and then got up and skied away without summoning help or offering an apology.
Paltrow through a representative denies the liability for the crash. Lawyers representing Paltrow stated she was downhill of the plaintiff and hit by the plaintiff. Paltrow was skiing with a ski instructor. The ski instructor, two Deer Valley employees and Deer Valley are also named in the lawsuit.
After the incident, but before skiing away, the ski instructor blamed the plaintiff for the crash. The ski instructor, Eric Christiansen, also allegedly filed a false report after the incident to protect his client. A mountain host, an employee of Deer Valley, who arrived on the scene, also blamed the plaintiff for the crash.
Witnesses and the ski instructor state that Paltrow was lower on the slope and struck by Sanderson.
Right before the crash the plaintiff stated he “heard this hysterical scream like you never hear on a ski run,” he said. “Never have I heard it in my life . . . like King Kong came out of the jungle or something.”
One of the allegations made by the plaintiff is Paltrow violated the National Ski Area Association’s Responsibility Code. However, the information is more of a public service than a code and is changed to meet the needs of the group or ski area using it. At one time, the code on the National Ski Area Associations website was different from the code on the National Ski Patrol’s website.
The Utah Skier Safety Act, has no sections creating or avoiding liability between skiers and snowboarders on the slope. Only one case in Utah has looked at the legal issues when a skier collides with another skier. Ricci v. Schoultz, M.D., 963 P.2d 784; 348 Utah Adv. Rep. 24; 1998 Utah App. LEXIS 57; 75 A.L.R.5th 745.
However, the facts in Ricci do not really help the Paltrow issues. In Ricci, the defendant was skiing ahead of the plaintiff and fell down. The defendant skied into the plaintiff lying on the ground suffering injuries. The defendant argued that falling on the slope was negligence, which the court basically laughed at the plaintiff’s claims.
However, the court did set forth a review of how a skier can be negligent.
…skiers owe that degree of care an ordinary prudent person would exercise under like or similar circumstances. One skier is not the insurer of another skier’s safety nor, absent negligence, is one skier liable to another for inadvertent or accidental contact. … Thus… skiers who lose control even while exercising due care—that is, have breached no duty owed to other skiers–may pose a danger which is inherent, obvious and necessary to participate in the sport of skiing.
Ricci v. Schoultz, 963 P.2d 784, (App. 1998)
However, the issue has not been to the Utah Supreme Court.
Most other states have held, some because of a statutory duty that the uphill skier has to keep a lookout for skiers lower on the slope. Most states require a higher degree of culpability on the part of the plaintiff, recklessness, to create liability. A collision with another skier is a risk you assume when skiing. Vu v. Ski Liberty Operating Corp., et. al., 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49013, Horvath v. Ish, 979 N.E.2d 1246 (Ohio 2012), Horowitz v Chen, 141 A.D.3d 410; 35 N.Y.S.3d 60; 2016 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5179; 2016 NY Slip Op 05335. Unless the plaintiff can prove the defendant was skiing recklessly a collision is an assumed risk of skiing and snowboarding.
In Utah and Colorado, only simple negligence needs to be proved to recover for injuries a skier receives from colliding with another skier or boarder.
Paltrow might have to pony up if the plaintiff’s facts are true. However, several of the facts are so funny or outlandish that it is hard to imagine Paltrow might lose.
In an update, Paltrow has counter sued Mr. Sanderson claiming he was the one causing the injury. She claims:
“Ms. Paltrow remembers what happened very clearly. She was enjoying skiing with her family on vacation in Utah, when Plaintiff — who was uphill from Ms. Paltrow — plowed into her back. She sustained a full ‘body blow,'” the suit said. “Ms. Paltrow was angry with Plaintiff, and said so. Plaintiff apologized. She was shaken and upset, and quit skiing for the day even though it was still morning.”
She is countersuing Mr. Sanderson for $1 and her attorney fees for defending this meritless claim. She called the claims against her “an attempt to exploit her celebrity and wealth.”
James Moss is a Colorado-based attorney and founder of https://recreation-law.com/


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