The Gwyneth Paltrow trial highlights the skier code

The celebrity trial shines a spotlight on the unspoken rules that govern conduct on the slopes, making “uphill” synonymous with “guilty.”

PARK CITY, Utah — Skiers have likely noticed signs at mountain resorts across the country that read, “Know the Code.” They refer to universal rules of conduct applicable to individuals who engage in inherently risky snow sports that involve going down crowded slopes, often at high speed.

But whether they actually understand the code is another question. For those unfamiliar with skiing and snowboarding, it’s probably something they’ve never heard of.

That all changes as an actor Gwyneth Paltrow’s highly publicized ski collision trial will be broadcast live from the courtroom. The actor-turned-lifestyle influencer was accused of colliding with another skier during a 2016 family trip to Utah’s upscale skier-only resort Deer Valley. The celebrity trial will take place on day six and is expected to end on Thursday.

For a week now, the process has been highlighting the unspoken rules that govern behavior on the slopes. Witness testimony has repeatedly touched on skier etiquette — particularly sharing post-collision contact information and ski turn radii — in the most high-profile ski collision trial in recent history.

There are about a hundred lawsuits related to the Code currently taking place out of the limelight. Most cases are settled before the trial.

Throughout the Paltrow trial, the word “uphill” has appeared as a synonym for “guilty” as attorneys have focused on one of the code’s key tenets: the skier ahead downhill or on a slope has the right-of-way.

Instead of just focusing on who hit whom, attorneys have questioned almost every witness — from Paltrow’s private ski instructors to doctors of the man who was suing Paltrow — which skier was downhill at the time of the collision.

After initially suing Paltrow for $3.1 million, retired optometrist Terry Sanderson is now suing for at least $300,000 in damages. Paltrow has countersued for $1 and attorney fees, alleging that Sanderson encountered her.

In court, attorneys on both sides repeated the term “downhill” to convince the jury that their client had the right-of-way.

The question has become a focus of the process as both sides name legions of family members, friends and acquaintances doctors to testify in Park City – the posh resort town in the Rocky Mountains that attracts a slew of celebrities every year Sundance Film Festival.

Paltrow’s position on the runway was central to the questioning of her teenage children – 16-year-old Moses and 18-year-old Apple Martin.

In testimony read by lawyers in court on Tuesday, both children said they did not see the moment of the crash. Before it happened, Moses Martin said he saw a man uphill from his mother.”

“I was following my instructor but I didn’t know what was going on,” said Moses Martin, who was nine at the time.

His instructor testified that he also did not witness the moment of the crash, but that he contacted Paltrow and Sanderson afterwards.

Apple Martin, then 11, recalled her mother being in “shock” after the collision and that she used an expletive to say a man had hit her while trying to escape.

To support Paltrow’s version of events, particularly that she was downhill when the crash happened, her defense team commissioned artists to render advanced animations.

With no video footage attached as evidence, the recollections of a ski buddy of Sanderson’s, who claims to be the only eyewitness, have become a sticking point for Paltrow’s team. In addition to sharing animations, Paltrow’s team undermined the man’s testimony by calling experts who argued Paltrow was going downhill.

Despite objections from Sanderson’s attorneys, the court allowed Paltrow’s team to play three of the seven high-definition animations on a projector positioned between the witnesses and the jury box — and the plums on Deer Valley’s aspen trees, children’s ski coats and groomed snow shows the beginner’s run, at where Sanderson and Paltrow fell.

Irving Scher, a biomechanical engineer hired by Paltrow’s defense team, drew stick figures and line graphs on a white board and wrote down equations for calculating force and torque to argue that science supported Paltrow’s account.

“MS Paltrow’s version of events is consistent with the laws of physics,” Scher testified Tuesday.

In an equally theatrical display last week, Sanderson’s attorneys attempted to engage Paltrow in a re-enactment of events but failed when the judge placed the kibosh on it.

While there are slight differences in state laws when it comes to finding bugs, “in court, it becomes a question of who the climber was,” said Denver attorney Jim Chalat, who handles litigation in Utah and Colorado has.

“It’s almost always the climber who can cause the crash,” said Chalat. “If you’re going too fast for your own ability and you can’t corner and you hit someone, you’re going to be in trouble.”

Nevertheless, accidents between skiers are rare. Most incidents that result in injury or death occur when skiers or snowboarders crash into stationary objects, usually trees. Collisions with people account for only about 5% of skier injuries, Chalat said.

Experts at the Paltrow trial have argued that the National Ski Areas Association’s code, more than 60 years old, is ubiquitous, with similar labels in Canada, Australia and parts of Europe.

The Responsibility Code was recently updated to urge skiers involved in a collision to share contact information with each other and a resort employee. Last week, Paltrow was grilled by Sanderson’s attorneys for exiting the collision without first sharing information with Sanderson. She said she knew one of the family’s ski instructors did it for her.

Very few cases target ski resorts where accidents have occurred because of the hazards associated with skiing and snowboarding, said attorney John Morgan of the Los Angeles law firm Morgan & Morgan.

The mountain where the Paltrow-Sanderson collision occurred, Deer Valley, was exempted in part from the lawsuit because skiers absolve resorts from responsibility by agreeing to a set of rules on the back of every lift ticket.

“It’s like going to a baseball game and getting hit in the head with a foul ball. You know when you’re sitting there that there’s some risk of that happening,” he said. The Gwyneth Paltrow trial highlights the skier code

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