Voices: The Gwyneth Paltrow verdict was justified – but there’s another issue at play here

·4-min read
Gwyneth Paltrow (Rick Bowmer/AP) (AP)
Gwyneth Paltrow (Rick Bowmer/AP) (AP)

The verdict is in: after nine days – or more accurately seven years – of back and forth Gwyneth Paltrow has been found not at fault for a skiing collision in 2016.

Attorneys for Terry Sanderson, a 76-year-old former optometrist from Idaho, argued that the Goop CEO and A-list Hollywood actor collided with him on the ski slopes of Flagstaff Mountain in Utah. Paltrow, however, insisted that it was in fact the eye doctor that collided with her. Cue joke about Specsavers.

Mind you, this was all way back in 2016, so despite the meme-worthy trial, the case did not only just appear on legal desks. Mr Sanderson first filed for damages in January 2019, seeking $300,000 in compensation for his injuries. Shortly after, Paltrow filed a countersuit asking for a symbolic $1, as well as coverage for her legal expenses.

On 30 March, the jury reached a verdict and found Terry Sanderson 100 percent at fault for the incident. As for the money, Paltrow was indeed awarded the hefty sum of $1, after which she swiftly exited the courtroom, not before gently patting Sanderson on the shoulder, leaning in and quietly saying something to him.

Paltrow's attorney then read a statement outside the court. “We’re pleased with the outcome and appreciate the judge and jury’s consideration. Gwyneth has a history of standing up for what’s right and this situation is no different. She will continue to stand up for what’s right.” A following statement was released by her representatives reading: “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.”

The internet has done what it does best and devoured the trial like vultures at a carcass, dissecting and mocking every comment, gesture, and – of course with a woman at the center – outfit. Usually I’m the last to back trolls, but in fairness to The Internet it’s quite difficult to defend a multi-millionaire Hollywood actor saying “I lost half a day skiing” in her testimony. A dry joke? Perhaps. Ill-judged? Definitely. From a request to bring “treats” into the trial to unsavory online comparisons to Jeffrey Dahmer, to an online sleuth uncovering evidence that attorneys on both sides missed, the last nine days have not been without their strange moments. There is no shortage of ridiculous or objectionable happenings in American courtrooms, and of course those were all going to be amplified when a world-famous Oscar winner was the focus. But perhaps it’s not those that deserve all the attention, as amusing as some of the creative reactions may seem.

I was not shocked to hear that – despite having collided with someone who had been knocked to the ground – Paltrow allegedly gave her contact information to the ski instructor and left. A Hollywood celebrity leaving someone else to deal with their mess? Never. As someone with a brain injury myself, I was in an accident and left alone, unconscious. While in a comatose state someone apparently called an ambulance for me, but otherwise left me in the road, so clearly you don’t have to be a mega-star to act like an asshole. But should people be on a publicly-streamed recorded legal trial, trending on social media, and dragged through the litigious mud for being a bit of an asshole?

This verdict shows that Paltrow and her team were right when they said the lawsuit was “a merciless claim”. Getting compensation when deserved in a fair legal system is of course paramount, but turning a civil trial such as this into an international circus seems absurd – and something we will likely keep seeing more of. Cameras in the courtroom may hardly be new, but the popularity of watching these live streams is only growing. As someone who monitors search trends all day – in other words what people are googling – I have consistently seen people in huge numbers looking for live feeds of the Paltrow trial. Sometimes this leads to new information being unearthed, perhaps providing added accountability in important cases, but this trial was nothing more than theater, a play with an ending as unsatisfactory as Sliding Doors. Perhaps the Goop founder will emerge from this unscathed, or perhaps it will be a PR nightmare for the rest of her career. Like making the bold decision to appear on reality TV, it is impossible to predict how the public will take your portrayal. In the case of a court trial, will people take the cases presented and concluding verdict, or will they focus more on the online reaction and commentary?

Given the evidence presented, it seems just that Paltrow has been found not at fault for the incident, but the question as to whether a trial like this should have ever been continuously streamed online remains unanswered.