Gwyneth Paltrow accuser calls Utah ski crash a ‘serious smack’
The man suing Gwyneth Paltrow over a 2016 skiing collision at an upscale Utah resort told a jury Monday that the actor-turned-lifestyle influencer crashed into him from behind and sent him “absolutely flying.”
“All I saw was a whole lot of snow. And I didn’t see the sky, but I was flying,” said Terry Sanderson, a 76-year-old retired optometrist, calling it “a serious smack.”
That’s the opposite of what Paltrow testified, and the jury has heard dueling narratives as the trial enters its second week. Paltrow said Sanderson was uphill and hit her from behind. He's suing her for more than $300,000, claiming she skied recklessly and that he has permanent brain damage from the crash that altered his personality.
On the stand Friday, Paltrow said Sanderson knocked into her gently from behind but that the collision escalated as the two skidded down the beginner slope. She said his skis veered between her legs, causing her to briefly panic as she heard a man groaning behind her. Paltrow was present in court Monday.
Sanderson recalled a screaming woman skiing out of control and hitting him square in the back. Craig Ramon, another skier who says he's the sole eyewitness to the collision, testified last week that he saw Paltrow hit Sanderson.
Regardless of who hit who, both sides agree the two then fell down and Paltrow landed on top of Sanderson. Paltrow's attorneys have disputed the extent of Sanderson's injuries and post-crash disorientation, but both sides say the collision resulted in Sanderson's four broken ribs and a concussion.
Sanderson was brought to tears throughout his testimony Monday, particularly when he appeared unable to focus or remember things.
His legal team attempted to present his confusion and memory lapses to support their brain-damage argument. Paltrow's lawyers used it to undercut his reliability as a witness.
Sanderson's testimony also resurfaced questions about the potential that a GoPro helmet camera may have documented the crash. Though no footage made it into evidence for the trial, attorneys have repeatedly questioned witnesses about an email one of his daughters sent that said: “I also can’t believe this is all on GoPro.”
That daughter, Shae Herath, testified last week that her words were mere speculation that someone on the upscale mountain must be outfitted with a helmet camera because they are a fixture at ski resorts.
Paltrow’s attorneys have continued to raise questions about what happened to the footage that Sanderson and his family members referred to.
It became clear Monday the potentially explosive evidence wouldn't explode.
Judge Kent Holmberg said online sleuths had found the link and that its contents would be included as evidence. It didn’t contain GoPro footage. Instead, it was to a chat between members of Sanderson’s ski group, in which Ramon — the man claiming to be the crash’s sole eyewitness — said on the day of the crash that Paltrow had crashed into Sanderson.
“Terry was knocked out cold. Bad hit to the head!” Ramon wrote. “I did see the hit. Terry did not know his name.”
The exchange made clear that Ramon thought Paltrow crashed into Sanderson years before any lawsuit was filed. It also shows Sanderson and those skiing with him knew the woman in the crash was Paltrow.
After four-and-a-half days of Sanderson's attorneys calling witnesses, Paltrow's defense team has equal time to present their case. They brought one of her family's four ski instructors to the stand Monday afternoon. Attorneys said Monday that Paltrow's two teenage children, Moses and Apple, would have their depositions read into the record later in the week instead of appearing in court on the witness stand.
Jurors sat transfixed as Paltrow's attorneys played computer animated reconstructions of how they say the collision occurred, with high enough resolution to show trees, children's ski coats and multiple vantage points.
For their first witness, the defense called Eric Christiansen, a mustachioed 40-year veteran ski instructor who was giving a lesson to Paltrow's family at Deer Valley Resort the day of the collision. He said he was monitoring much of the mountain during the exact moment Sanderson and Paltrow collided and didn't see the moment of impact but saw what happened immediately before and after.
In testimony that wandered into instruction about skiing technique, Christiansen said Paltrow was making “short radius turns” while Sanderson was skiing down the groomed run “edge to edge" and “quite dynamically.”
He said he remembered Paltrow landed on top of Sanderson because he approached and took her skis off, then his.
“I believe you told me once if a soccer player takes out someone’s legs, they’re underneath,” Paltrow's attorney, Steve Owens, said as he asked questions about the crash.
Paltrow's attorneys plan to depose a slate of medical experts who are expected to undercut testimony from the neurologists, radiologists and psychologists hired by Sanderson's team.
The trial has also touched on the habits and hobbies of wealthy people like Sanderson and Paltrow as well as the power — and burden — of celebrity. The amount of money at stake for both sides pales in comparison to the typical legal costs of a multiyear lawsuit, expert witnesses, a private security detail and high-resolution animation.
Much of the questioning throughout the trial's first five days has revolved around Sanderson's motivation for suing Paltrow. Her attorneys have argued the lawsuit is an attempt by an “obsessed” man to exploit the actor-turned-lifestyle influencer’s wealth and celebrity. Sanderson's attorneys have attempted to paint Paltrow as a carefree movie star who hurt an aging man and is unwilling to take responsibility for the fallout.
“No one believed how serious my injuries were,” said Sanderson, who enjoyed wine tasting and international travel before the crash. “There was lots of insults added to that singular incident.”
This story was written by Sam Metz of the Associated Press with a contribution from Kiana Doyle in Seattle.