FROM THE BENCH | Civil vs. Criminal: It’s all about the money. And to make a point? – Opinion
A 76-year-old retired optometrist filed a civil lawsuit against actress Gwyneth Paltrow, alleging that while skiing downhill from Paltrow at a Park City Ski Resort in 2016, Paltrow was skiing “out of control” and knocked into him. Terry Sanderson’s complaint also says Paltrow skied away without summoning help, and that her ski instructor filed a false report blaming him for the incident.
A critical component necessary in a civil lawsuit is proof of damages due to the alleged act. In this case, Sanderson claims Paltrow’s actions caused him a brain injury and four broken ribs and is claiming more than $300,000.00 in damages.
In response, Paltrow filed a countersuit alleging she was the one skiing downhill from Sanderson and that he plowed into her from behind, causing a “full body blow.” Her ski instructor, who was present at the time, claims Sanderson skied into the actress. Paltrow is claiming $1.00 in damages, plus attorneys’ fees and costs.
Requesting only $1.00 in damages is – in general – a clear indication that the point is not about receiving compensation for injuries incurred, but rather to make a point. As a successful actress, Paltrow arguably has sufficient funds to settle a suit in which the plaintiff requests $300,000.00, but instead, she’s headed to trial.
Why do you think Paltrow is publically pursuing this lawsuit and proceeding with trial?
Note that there are no current criminal charges in this case. Criminal charges can only be pursued if there is probable cause to believe a criminal offense has been committed. There are ski laws in Utah intended to protect ski area operators and limit their civil liability. There are also safe skiing standards, including the Skiers Responsibility Code (the “Code”), which sets forth the rules of the road, which all skiers should obey.
- Always stay in control and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
- People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
- You must not stop where you obstruct a trail or are not visible from above.
- Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
- Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
- Observe all posted signs and warnings.
- Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
- Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride, and unload safely.
Violation of these standards can be the basis for a civil lawsuit.
What do you think? Will a jury believe the retired optometrist Sanderson or the famous actress Paltrow?
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