Gwyneth Paltrow not at fault for 2016 ski collision in Utah resort, jury decides
Gwyneth Paltrow won her court battle over a 2016 ski collision at a posh Utah ski resort after a jury decided Thursday that the movie star wasn’t at fault for the crash.
A jury dismissed the complaint of a retired optometrist who sued Paltrow over injuries he sustained when the two crashed on a beginner run at Deer Valley ski resort, siding with Paltrow after eight days of live-streamed courtroom testimony that made the case a pop culture fixation.
Paltrow, an actor who in recent years has refashioned herself into a celebrity wellness entrepreneur, Paltrow looked to her attorneys with a pursed lips smile when the judge read the eight-member jury’s verdict in the Park City courtroom. She sat intently through two weeks of testimony in what became the biggest celebrity court case since actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard faced off last year.
The dismissal concludes two weeks of courtroom proceedings that hinged largely on reputation rather than the monetary damages at stake in the case.
Paltrow’s attorneys described the complaint against her as “utter B.S.” and painted the Goop founder-CEO as uniquely vulnerable to unfair, frivolous lawsuits due to her celebrity.
Paltrow took the witness stand during the trial to insist the collision wasn’t her fault, and to describe how she was stunned when she felt “a body pressing against me and a very strange grunting noise.”
Throughout the trial, the word “uphill” became synonymous with “guilty, ” as attorneys focused on a largely unknown skiing code of conduct that stipulates that the skier who is downhill or ahead on the slope has the right of way.
Worldwide audiences followed the celebrity trial as if it were episodic television. Viewers scrutinized both Paltrow and Sanderson’s motives while attorneys directed questions to witnesses that often had less to do with the collision and more to do with their client’s reputations.
The trial took place in Park City, a resort town known for hosting the annual Sundance Film Festival, where early in her career Paltrow would appear for the premieres of her movies including 1998’s “Sliding Doors,” at a time when she was known primarily as an actor, not a lifestyle influencer. Paltrow is also known for her roles in “Shakespeare in Love” and the “Iron Man” movies.
The jury’s decision marks a painful court defeat for Terry Sanderson, the man who sued Paltrow for more than $300,000 over injuries he sustained when they crashed on a beginner run. Both parties blamed the other for the collision. Sanderson, 76, broke four ribs and sustained a concussion after the two tumbled down the slope, with Paltrow landing on top of him.
He filed an amended complaint after an earlier $3.1 million lawsuit was dismissed. Paltrow in response countersued for $1 and attorney fees, a symbolic action that mirrors Taylor Swift’s response to a radio host’s defamation lawsuit. Swift was awarded $1 in 2017.
Sanderson’s attorneys have cast doubt on Paltrow’s testimony and underscored the injuries that their client, Sanderson, has said changed the course of his life.
“He never returned home that night as the same man. Terry has tried to get off that mountain but he’s really still there,” attorney Robert Sykes said in his closing argument. “Part of Terry will forever be on that Bandana run.”
In a courtroom more packed Thursday than any other day of the trial, Sanderson’s attorneys delivered their arguments first. They argued it was unlikely that someone could ski between another skier’s two legs as Paltrow said. They also noted that she didn’t deny watching her kids skiing the moment of the crash.
Paltrow’s attorneys took a two-pronged approach, both arguing that the actor-turned-lifestyle influencer didn’t cause the accident and that its effects aren’t as bad as Sanderson claims. They’ve painted him as an “obsessed” man pushing “utter B.S.” claims against someone whose fame makes them vulnerable to unfair, frivolous lawsuits.
In their closing arguments, Sanderson’s team also noted how the man claiming to be the sole eyewitness testified to seeing Paltrow hit their client. Though they’ve tapped into themes including the power of fame throughout the trial, they said that the case ultimately wasn’t about celebrity, but simply damages.
Sanderson testified that he had continued to pursue damages seven years after the accident because the cascading events that followed — his post-concussion symptoms and the accusation that he sued to exploit Paltrow’s celebrity — added insult to injury.
“That’s the purpose: to make me regret this lawsuit. It’s the pain of trying to sue a celebrity,” he said on Wednesday in response to a question from his attorney about Paltrow’s team probing his personal life, medical records and extensive post-crash international travel itinerary.
Though both sides have marshaled significant resources to emerge victorious, the verdict could end up being remembered as an afterthought dwarfed by the worldwide attention the trial has attracted. The amount of money at stake pales in comparison to the typical legal costs of a multiyear lawsuit, private security detail and expert witness-heavy trial.
Among the most bombshell testimony has been from Paltrow and Sanderson. On Friday members of the jury were riveted when Paltrow said on the stand that she initially thought she was being “violated” when the collision began. Three days later Sanderson gave an entirely different account, saying she ran into him and sent him “absolutely flying.”
The trial has also shone a spotlight on Park City, known primarily as a ski resort that welcomes celebrities like Paltrow for each year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Local residents have increasingly filled the courtroom gallery throughout the trial. They’ve nodded along as lawyers and witnesses have referenced local landmarks like Montage Deer Valley, the ski-side hotel-spa where Paltrow got a massage after the collision. At times they have appeared captivated by Paltrow’s reactions to the proceedings, while at others they have mirrored the jury, whose endurance has been tested by hours of jargon-dense medical testimony.