Paltrow not liable for Utah ski collision, awarded $1, jury rules
A jury ruled Thursday that Gwyneth Paltrow was not liable for a 2016 ski collision with a man who claims the Oscar-winning actress careened into him on a slope in Utah and left him with life-altering brain trauma.
Terry Sanderson, a 76-year-old retired optometrist, had sought upward of $300,000 in damages from the actress - down from the $3 million for which he originally sued after he and Paltrow collided on a beginner's slope in February 2016 at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, one of the top alpine ranges in the country. A jury took three hours to deliberate before deciding that the 2016 accident was Sanderson's fault and that it caused harm to Paltrow.
The amount of money at stake in the lawsuit paled in comparison to the spectacle around it, with observers analyzing Paltrow's fashion choices as she sat silently through long days of testimony, and her legal team complaining that journalists in the courtroom kept taking close-ups shots of the actress when she wasn't speaking. Her attorney Stephen Owens said in closing arguments that it took "a lot of courage" for Paltrow to sit through proceedings.
The actor was not at fault in the accident while Sanderson was "one hundred percent at fault," the jury said in the verdict. The retired optometrist was also held liable for causing Paltrow harm and owes her $1 for compensation of economic damages.
Paltrow smiled briefly minutes after the verdict was read out. Sanderson's head and shoulders were hunched downward as the verdict was read; his hands placed flatly in front of him. His lawyer patted his back as they absorbed the verdict.
Before exiting the court, Paltrow walked to where Sanderson was seated and, placing a hand on his back, briefly said something indecipherable to him.
The two-week trial veered toward absurdity when Paltrow, 50, took the stand on March 24 to argue that Sanderson's account of the crash was largely fabricated. Sanderson attorney Kristin VanOrman's interrogation resembled a tabloid magazine interview at points.
"Are you good friends with Taylor Swift?" VanOrman asked, seemingly suggesting that Paltrow's countersuit against Sanderson - for $1 plus attorney fees - was modeled after the pop singer's symbolic claim against a radio DJ.
"I would not say we're good friends. We are friendly," replied Paltrow, who won an Academy Award for her leading role in "Shakespeare in Love" and now runs the lifestyle and wellness company Goop. The judge sustained an objection to a follow-up question about whether Paltrow and Swift exchanged Christmas presents.
In his own testimony, Sanderson said he never fully recovered after Paltrow allegedly slammed into him, then skied away while he laid unconscious in the snow with broken ribs. The retired optometrist and his family members testified that he now suffers from memory problems and mood swings, and struggles to communicate.
"I refuse to believe I have brain issues," Sanderson told the jury. "I'm still in denial." In closing arguments, Sanderson attorney Lawrence Buhler said, "The crash took much of what [Sanderson] had and left it on the mountain."
The defense, meanwhile, tried to paint him as a wealthy attention seeker whose life of near-constant vacations was little changed by the accident. When asked about his decision to write "I'm famous" in an email he sent to his daughters shortly after the collision, Sanderson blamed the behavior on "the other person inhabiting my body."
Paltrow's team gave a radically different account of the crash and its aftermath. The actress testified that Sanderson hit her, skiing directly into her back as she descended the slope with her children. "I thought, 'Is this a practical joke? Is someone doing something perverted? This is really, really strange,'" she said, adding that Sanderson was conscious after the crash and even apologized to her.
Witnesses present the day of the collision also provided conflicting versions of events. Sanderson's attorneys pointed to online messages sent in 2016 by Craig Ramon, a member of Sanderson's ski group who wrote a few days later that the plaintiff "was knocked out cold. Bad hit to the head!"
On Tuesday, Paltrow's team read from the depositions of her two teenaged children, Apple and Moses Martin, who accompanied her on the ski trip. Moses remembered seeing "my mother and a person behind her" immediately after the collision, when he heard Paltrow exclaim with an expletive, "You just ran into me." Apple did not witness the crash but said her mother looked "a bit shocked" afterward and told Apple someone "ran right into my back."
"He hit her, he hurt her and he's not entitled to sue her," Paltrow lawyer Owens said of Sanderson in closing arguments. "He's not entitled to be rewarded for hurting her. That's not how this country works."
Much of the remaining testimony came from medical professionals who disputed the cause and extent of Sanderson's recent mental decline, with defense lawyers arguing that his health troubles preceded the collision.
In an attempt to undercut Sanderson's claim that his health was ruined by the crash, the lawyer made him confirm a long list of trips he subsequently took in South America, Europe, Morocco and various U.S. states, at one point pulling up a social media photo of Sanderson "going on a hike, taking a picture of moose."
Owens, who had earlier apologized for "being an a--" while cross-examining Sanderson's daughter, scolded the plaintiff on the last full day of trial for publicly comparing Paltrow to movie monsters.
"Did you compare my client to King Kong coming out of the jungle?" Owens asked.
"Sounds familiar," Sanderson said.
"Did you refer to her as Godzilla to her daughter?"
"Don't remember that."
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The Washington Post's Anumita Kaur, Brittany Shammas and Maham Javaid contributed to this story.
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