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How the Gwyneth Paltrow ski crash case has affected the world of winter sports cover

Posted: 08/02/2024

In March 2023, a trial involving American actress Gwyneth Paltrow caught the attention of both the general public and the media. Concerning a skiing collision in Utah in 2016, retired optometrist Terry Sanderson had alleged that Paltrow was skiing ‘out of control’, knocked him down, and then departed without offering any help. 

The dramatic and high-profile nature of the case meant that many became absorbed by the trial – and after eight days, on 30 March, the jury ruled that Sanderson was ‘100% at fault’. It sided with Paltrow, who had countersued for $1 and her legal fees. 

Case closed? Although media coverage and public interest may have died down soon after the final judgment, the impact of the case can still be felt when it comes to winter sports cover. 

Mark Lee, partner and head of the travel team and insurance sector at Penningtons Manches Cooper, has been quoted in an article for Insurance Post, which considers how – in the midst of the current ski season – the winter sports cover landscape has changed since Paltrow’s trial.

In general, there has been a post-pandemic boom in high-value claims as winter sports enthusiasts head back to the slopes after a long break enforced by travel restrictions. As Mark explains in the article, ‘the level of damages demanded by Sanderson acted as a wake-up call to skiers’, who may not have been aware of the potential costs involved should a collision occur. Sanderson sought a hefty sum of $300,000 in his case against Paltrow (down from an even higher original figure of $3.1 million). 

On the other hand, insurers may need to get back up to speed on how to handle the specifics of these types of claims – in particular, the gathering of evidence, developments in technology and the rules and regulations governing those who take to the slopes. These are key components impacting the outcome of any claim. 

As explained by Mark, ‘the wall-to-wall coverage of the argument that took place in court highlighted to insurers and policyholders the way liability is linked to the etiquette of the slopes’. He goes on to recommend that travel insurers would do well to remind policy holders ‘of the International Ski Federation rules of conduct and urge them to consider local piste rules relevant to the country where they are skiing, before they depart.’ 

Above all, the article highlights the continued importance of having the correct cover in place, should a collision, or any other accident happen. A Post Office survey of 1,000 UK adults has suggested that around half (51%) going on a winter sports holiday in 2022-23 did not take out winter sports travel insurance, despite the fact that this provides aspects of cover that regular travel insurance policies do not. 

As Mark says in the article, ‘It is a common misconception amongst consumers that travel insurance provides all necessary cover for a ski trip. While some travel insurance policies do provide comprehensive cover, others do not.’ 

‘Many travel insurers offer winter sports cover as an add on to a travel policy. Even then, there’s no guarantee all activities are covered. For example, if a policyholder knows they are going on a skidoo excursion, then they should check the policy to see if that’s covered.’

Off-piste skiing is a further example of how policyholders must check their cover, and contact their insurer if they have any doubts – some policies, for example, will cover all forms of off-piste skiing; others will only provide cover if it is done with a guide, or within resort boundaries. 

Insurance providers have a responsibility too: to ensure that their customers understand what is, and isn’t, covered by their policy. Doing so is at the core of the Financial Conduct Authority’s new Consumer Duty rules. As explained by Mark, ‘This Duty means insurers are expected to consider the needs, characteristics and objectives of their customers at every stage of the customer journey. More than ever, insurers must make it as clear as possible what the cover entails.’ 

Ultimately, the Paltrow case may well be in the back of the mind of some of those choosing to travel abroad for a winter sports holiday this year. While it is unlikely they would have to deal with the same level of attention from the world’s media should a collision occur, without the right cover, they could nevertheless be subject to significant legal or financial consequences.

To read the full Insurance Post article on the developments to winter sports cover following the Paltrow trial, click here (subscription required).

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP