A jury in Park City, Utah, sided with Gwyneth Paltrow on Thursday against claims from a retired optometrist accusing her of a ski “hit-and-run” that he says caused him serious, long-lasting injuries.
The jury’s decision protects the actor and lifestyle mogul from having to pay plaintiff Terry Sanderson $300,000 in damages ― a relatively small figure compared to the approximately $3 million he originally sought in his claim.
The trial that kicked off March 21 saw each party providing nearly opposite accounts of the 2016 collision at the upscale Deer Valley Resort: Sanderson, 76, claimed Paltrow skied into him, causing him to suffer broken ribs and lasting brain damage, while Paltrow, 50, said it was actually Sanderson who skied into her, causing temporary pain to her back and knee.
In a countersuit, Paltrow asked that Sanderson pay her $1 and cover her legal fees.
While Sanderson’s legal team painted Paltrow as a careless, wealthy celebrity who didn’t care about another skier’s injuries, her defense characterized him as an “obsessed” man who saw dollar signs when he realized he’d collided with an A-list actor.
During her testimony, Paltrow said Sanderson slammed into her from behind while his skis slid between her legs. “You skied into my effing back,” she recalled telling Sanderson, whom she says apologized and said he was OK. Paltrow said the ski instructor working with her and her children encouraged her to head down the mountain to reconnect with her family, and that he would stay with Sanderson to fill out post-accident paperwork.
That ski instructor, Eric Christiansen, also testified. He didn’t see the moment of impact, he said, but he recalls Paltrow ending up on top of Sanderson after they collided.
“I believe you told me once if a soccer player takes out someone’s legs, they’re underneath,” Paltrow’s attorney, Steve Owens, said while questioning Christiansen.
Paltrow’s two teenage children on the slopes with her that day, Apple and Moses Martin, also testified that their mother said immediately after the collision that Sanderson had run into her, according to their depositions read in court.
But when Sanderson took the stand, he said Paltrow was the cause of the accident.
“I got hit in my back so hard, and right at my shoulder blades. It felt like it was perfectly centered, the fists and the poles were right there, at my shoulder blades. Serious, serious smack. I’ve never been hit that hard,” he said.
Since then, he continued, he’s struggled to remember things and can’t enjoy the activities he used to love, including skiing and international travel. “I’m, like, living another life now,” he said, calling himself a “self-imposed recluse.” One of his daughters who testified on his behalf also said their family had witnessed a major personality change in him.
Paltrow offered her condolences to Sanderson during her testimony, but was unequivocal in her position that she was not responsible for his suffering.“I feel very sorry for him, she said. “It seems like he’s had a really difficult life, but I did not cause the accident, so I cannot be at fault for anything that subsequently happened to him.”
The only witness who claims to have seen the collision is Craig Ramon, a friend of Sanderson’s who testified in support of his version of events. But Paltrow’s defense quickly noted that Ramon’s description of what ski gear Paltrow had on was not consistent with what he said in his previous deposition.
Both sides brought in medical experts to aid in their case. Sanderson’s attorneys pulled in a radiologist, who said brain images suggested his head trauma was likely caused by someone crashing into him, along with a neuropsychologist, who said there was an “acute rapid downturn” in Sanderson’s brain function after the collision.
But medical experts Paltrow’s legal team called up said brain scans suggested Sanderson’s cognitive abilities were on the decline years before the 2016 incident.