Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow is testifying in a Utah courtroom this week in connection with a 2016 ski crash that took place on a bunny slope at the Deer Valley Resort in Park City.
Terry Sanderson, 76, has sued the actress, alleging she ran into him on the slope and skied away, leaving him facedown in the snow with a concussion and broken ribs.
Paltrow has, in turn, countersued Sanderson, claiming he was the one who crashed into her.
Here’s what to know about the ongoing civil trial, which began March 21 and is expected to wrap up on Thursday after eight days of testimony.
Why is Paltrow being sued?
Sanderson, a military veteran and retired optometrist, filed a lawsuit against Paltrow in 2019 alleging that on Feb. 26, 2016, the Goop CEO was skiing “out of control,” hit him from behind, and left him “facedown in the snow, unconscious,” one of Sanderson’s lawyers said in 3rd District Court in Summit County court last Tuesday. Paltrow, 50, had allegedly turned to watch her children ski, and “as she turns her head back down, she screams, then skis into the back of Terry Sanderson,” his lawyer said. Paltrow then skied away, he alleges.
Sanderson went to an emergency room with a concussion and four broken ribs, according to the lawsuit. One of Sanderson’s friends who was skiing with him that day testified in court on Tuesday that he saw Paltrow plow into Sanderson, knocking him over.
“I hear this scream and then I see this skier just slam into the back of Terry,” the friend testified, adding that the impact was “very hard.”
“I just remember everything was great and then I heard something I’ve never heard at a ski resort and that was a blood-curdling scream … and then boom,” Sanderson told the court on Monday — the trial’s fifth day. “It was like somebody was out of control and going to hit a tree and was going to die. And that’s what I had until I was hit.”
The collision had a lasting effect on Sanderson, according to his lawyers, who claimed that Paltrow’s “neglect, her choices, and her disregard for other people on the mountain all combined together” caused a life-altering brain injury.
Sanderson’s attorneys are citing the National Ski Area Association’s Skier Responsibility Code, which states that skiers must “always stay in control” and that “people ahead of you have the right of way. Is it your responsibility to avoid them.” They also referenced a Summit County ordinance that mandates “any skier involved in a collision that results in an injury” must stop, render assistance, notify ski area employees, and give their name and address “before leaving the ski area.”
Sanderson initially sued Paltrow for $3.1 million, but a judge dismissed some of the claims. Sanderson amended the complaint and now seeks $300,000.
Sanderson told reporters when he first filed the lawsuit in 2019 that he waited nearly tree years to do so because he had problems with attorneys and allegedly could not function properly after the concussion.
What is Paltrow’s defense?
Paltrow’s position is that she was downhill, and Sanderson hit her, her lawyers said last week. The actress testified in court on Friday, saying the collision was so sudden, she initially wondered if she was being assaulted.
“I was confused at first and didn’t know exactly what was happening,” Paltrow testified, recalling the moment Sanderson’s skis allegedly appeared between her own and she felt a body pressing into her. “I thought, ‘Is this a practical joke? Is someone doing something perverted? This is really, really strange.’”
Paltrow testified that she did not ask about Sanderson’s condition after the collision but said she stayed on the mountain “long enough for him to say that he was OK” and to stand up.
Paltrow is countersuing for $1 plus attorneys’ fees, accusing Sanderson of making a “meritless claim” and attempting to “exploit her celebrity and wealth,” according to the Associated Press. She said her injuries were minor and that she is seeking “symbolic damages.”
Paltrow’s ski instructor testified in court on Monday, saying that he did not observe that Sanderson was unconscious after the crash. He said he heard Sanderson apologize to Paltrow twice, but did not witness the collision itself. A member of the ski patrol who responded to the incident also testified Monday, and said that Sanderson spoke of rib pain but passed her preliminary cognitive tests. She testified that Sanderson was “alert,” and she did not observe any serious head injury.
Paltrow’s husband and two of her children were set to testify on Monday, but delays in the proceedings changed plans.
The trial so far
On Monday, Paltrow’s lawyers asked questions about whether Sanderson’s injuries were due to the crash or whether they predated it. They also questioned whether the collision was attributed to aging.
Sanderson said in testimony Monday that his personality has changed since the crash, and that he has become a “self-imposed recluse” who gets confused and feels unsafe.
“I got hit in my back so hard,” Sanderson said. “It felt like it was perfectly centered and the fists and the poles were right there at the bottom of my shoulder blades. A serious, serious smack.”
On Friday during testimony, Paltrow said she was “not engaging in any risky behavior.” She said her daughter was “down the hill. My son was to my left. I was skiing. My eyes were not fixated only on my son when Mr. Sanderson skied directly into my back.”
Paltrow testified that her ski instructor told her that he was going to leave her information with Sanderson and that she should “ski down because my kids were waiting for me.”
Paltrow testified that she felt shaky after the crash and her knee was bothering her. She later had lunch and a massage.
The trial is expected to wrap up Thursday. On Tuesday, Paltrow’s attorneys were expected to bring in experts in skiing and neurological rehabilitation.
Brittany Bowker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @brittbowker and on Instagram @brittbowker.