Gwyneth Paltrow found not at fault in Utah ski crash trial
Gwyneth Paltrow, the Hollywood star and lifestyle guru, has prevailed in the dramatic court tussle over dueling ski-crash claims with the retired optometrist Terry Sanderson, who had sued the actor for liability in a collision on a Utah mountain in 2016.
The verdict in the much-watched case, which to many seemed to pit one affluent lifestyle against another, came after a two-week trial that heard from dozens of witnesses attempting to assert truth to an incident that only one witness claimed to see.
The jury returned after just two hours and 20 minutes, finding Terry Sanderson at fault for the crash and finding him at fault for Paltrow’s harm.
The jury found Sanderson 100% at fault in terms of comparative negligence and awarded the actress damages of $1, as she requested. Paltrow’s legal costs will be decided at a later date.
As Paltrow left the court, she told Sanderson “I wish you well.”
In an emailed statement, Paltrow said: “I felt that acquiescing to a false claim compromised my integrity. I am pleased with the outcome and I appreciate all of the hard work of Judge Holmberg and the jury, and thank them for their thoughtfulness in handling this case.”
Outside the court, Paltrow’s lead attorney Steven Owen added: “Gwyneth has a history of advocating for what she believes in – this situation was no different and she will continue to stand up for what is right.”
Separately, Sanderson said it was a “real disappointment” at how he had been characterized during the trial. “It wasn’t just about the facts of the accident, was it?
“I listened to how I was characterized … it was narrative about the life I’ve lived. They said things that were absolutely not true,” he added.
Sanderson, 76, had initially brought a claim for $3m against Paltrow, but that was knocked down to $300,000 before the trial began. Paltrow, who counter-sued, claiming Sanderson hit her and that she was being exploited for her wealth and celebrity.
Los Angeles entertainment attorney Tre Lovell commented after the verdict that Paltrow had not only won the legal fight but improved her image.
“The jury found Gwyneth Paltrow’s version of events more credible, which was most likely because Paltrow and the experts testifying on her behalf gave a more detailed and compelling presentation,” he said. “Paltrow’s charm and personal magnetism didn’t hurt either.”
The verdict, Lovell said, “just supports the longstanding trend of celebrities getting a bit of deference from jurors in civil trials, even in a place like Utah where conservatism and religious faith run strong”.
“Overall, she walks away from this trial with her image more than intact,” he added. “It’s actually been enhanced because of how she handled herself with poise.”
The trial may go down as one of the most bizarre uses of a court’s time. Over two weeks, the dueling plaintiffs called numerous expert witness to the stand, read depositions, presented computer reconstructions, and took the stand themselves.
The Hollywood A-lister Paltrow, 50, won concessions from the court to limit press and onlookers as she entered each day, often in a different outfit. Her attorneys also offered to bring “treats” for the court, which the presiding judge, Kent Holmberg, rejected.
Sanderson filed a lawsuit against Paltrow three years after the collision, claiming she had been skiing “out of control” when she hit him, “knocking him down hard, knocking him out, and causing a brain injury, four broken ribs and other serious injuries”.
He claimed that after the accident, Paltrow simply “got up, turned, and skied away”. The actor’s negligence, which he claimed caused the collision, had caused him to no longer enjoy such activities as wine tastings, the court heard. Paltrow’s attorneys claimed that Sanderson’s symptoms were likely the result of his age.
In her testimony, Paltrow claimed that when Sanderson skied into her from behind, she initially thought she might be being sexually assaulted. “Was he grinding or thrusting? What made you think it was a sexual assault?” Sanderson’s lawyer, Kristin VanOrman, asked. Paltrow said: “It was a quick thought that went through my head.”
The trial was peppered with inadvertently comedic moments that touched on a skier’s right of way in Utah, the radius of their turns and ability, the relative size and height of Sanderson and Paltrow, and the right or not to celebrity anonymity on the slopes.
Sanderson, who sent an email after the crash titled “I’m famous … ” said on the witness stand he was not star-struck after learning Paltrow was the woman involved in the collision, and “didn’t think” colliding with the Goop mogul was cool.
“I’m not into celebrity worship,” Sanderson told jurors.
But the case may have ultimately turned on the witness testimony of Craig Ramone, a member of Sanderson’s online ski chat group, who claimed to be the crash’s sole eyewitness.
He wrote on the day of the crash that Paltrow had crashed into his friend. “Terry was knocked out cold. Bad hit to the head!” Ramon wrote. “I did see the hit. Terry did not know his name.”
On the stand, Ramone said: ‘We were skiing down the run and then I heard this scream. I looked over and I see this skier just slam into the back of Terry.”
However, Paltrow’s ski instructor Eric Christiansen countered that in a report he wrote up after the collision, “I clearly observed him as the uphill skier, and the uphill skier has a responsibility to avoid other skiers.”