What You Need to Know About the Gwyneth Paltrow Skiing Trial
A quick rundown of the court case that is dominating headlines this week
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As you may have heard, Oscar-winning actress (and enemy of breakfast) Gwyneth Paltrow is in a Utah courtroom this week, participating in a trial that has shone a spotlight on our world of outdoor recreation. Paltrow stands accused of causing a skiing collision in 2016 at Utah’s Deer Valley Resort that may have left a man with serious injuries.
A retired optometrist named Terry Sanderson, 76, alleges that Paltrow, 50, plowed into him from behind on a beginner run and then fled the scene. The impact, Sanderson says, caused serious trauma, including a brain injury and multiple broken bones.
Paltrow and her legal team dispute that she was at fault—they say Sanderson caused the crash. The trial kicked off on Tuesday, March 21, and there have already been a few twists and turns.
Who Is Suing Whom?
Both Sanderson, 76, and Paltrow are suing one another. He seeks $300,000 in damages, while Paltrow is asking for a symbolic payment of $1 plus the cost of her legal fees.
Sanderson originally filed suit in January 2019 and demanded $3.1 million in damages. He says Paltrow was skiing out of control when she struck him. “Gwyneth Paltrow knew it was wrong to slam into Dr. Sanderson’s back, knocking him down, landing on top of him, knocking him out and then leave the scene of the ski crash she caused, but she did it anyway,” his legal team told the jury earlier this week.
Paltrow launched a countersuit in February 2019 alleging that Sanderson caused the accident and is now attempting to capitalize on her fame. “He demanded Ms. Paltrow pay him millions. If she did not pay, she would face negative publicity resulting from his allegations,” her attorneys wrote in 2019.
According to her legal team, she “was enjoying skiing with her family on vacation in Utah, when [Sanderson]—who was uphill from Ms. Paltrow—plowed into her back.’’ Her lawyers say that Sanderson became obsessed with the incident and the role Paltrow’s celebrity has played in the case.
So, What Actually Happened?
I don’t know about you, but my Instagram feed these days is chock-full of videos of skiers careening into snowdrifts, ice patches, and yes, one another. But alas, the Paltrow-Sanderson collision appears to be the one ski crash that went unfilmed. Paltrow’s lawyers, however, have raised questions about supposed missing GoPro footage of the incident. It has not materialized.
What we do know is that the incident happened on February 26, 2016. Paltrow was on a ski trip with her two children (Apple and Moses) and her then-boyfriend (now husband) Brad Falchuk and his two children. She was taking a lesson with her kids at the time of the crash. The collision occurred on a green ski run called Bandana, which takes skiers from the top of 9,100-foot Flagstaff Mountain down to the Empire Canyon Lodge, a popular mid-mountain eatery. Bandana is unquestionably a run for beginners, and it’s the easiest trail connecting the two points on the mountain. A video of the slope shows multiple “Slow” signs dotting the wide and gradual run as it gently makes its way to the lodge.
With the lack of video as official evidence, this case is likely to be a he-said she-said affair.
What Does He Say?
Sanderson claims that he was skiing in front of Paltrow when she struck him—positioning that should grant him the right of way, per the No. 2 bullet point on the the Skier Responsibility Code. His lawyer, Lawrence Buhler, told a jury on Tuesday that Paltrow was distracted by her children as she descended the slope, and that she screamed just before skiing into Sanderson. After the impact, Buhler said, Paltrow hurriedly skied down the mountain. His lawyers also say that Paltrow’s ski instructor later filed a false report about the incident to protect Paltrow.
On Wednesday, March 22, Sanderson’s legal team called his companion Craig Ramon to the stand, and attorneys said he was the only eyewitness of the crash. Ramon said Paltrow was at fault. “I see this skier just slam into the back of Terry, very hard,” Ramon said on the stand. “She hits him right directly in the back. His skis, the tips go out like this, and he falls face down kind of spread eagle.”
On Wednesday, March 22, members of Sanderson’s family testified that his personality was forever changed by the impact. Two doctors also said the crash had dramatic and negative effects on his health. “After the accident, he deteriorated abruptly,” said Dr. Wendell Gibby.
What Does She Say?
Paltrow legal team called Sanderson’s claim “utter BS” in a statement on Tuesday. Her counter suit claims she was skiing downhill from Sanderson, and that he struck her. In his opening statements, Paltrow’s lawyer Stephen Owens said she was descending the slope when “two skis appear between her skis and a man comes up right behind her.” Paltrow thought she was being assaulted and fell on top of Sanderson. Paltrow’s defense is likely to argue that Sanderson was potentially unfit to be skiing at the time of the impact. According to her legal documents, Sanderson had previously informed his doctors that he was blind in one eye and had declining vision in the other.
What Role Does Skiing Play in a Verdict?
The written rules of ski resorts play a major role in deciding who is at fault here, and multiple news outlets have written about these regulations during the trial. Utah is one state (Colorado, too) that has codified elements of the Skier Responsibility Code into actual law—if you are reckless, you are to blame is the law’s basic message.
CBS News spoke to David Cutt, a Salt Lake City-based lawyer who has worked on ski collision cases, who said the trial will hinge on which party can convince the jury that the other person broke the rules by skiing in an unsafe way. And that’s where the trial gets sticky, since both parties allege that they were the downhill skier who was struck.
“So what it’s going to come down to is, the jury is going to listen to everybody about the collision itself and the aftermath and decide who they think is credible and who isn’t,” Cutt told CBS News.
What’s At Stake?
Various websites estimate Paltrow’s worth to surpass $100 million—much of that due to the valuation of her lifestyle website Goop. These personal valuations, of course, are broad estimates. Still, it’s safe to say that $300,000 isn’t a particularly painful sum for the Paltrow estate to pay. This trial appears to be entirely symbolic for both parties. Sanderson believes he was wronged, and so does Paltrow.
How Weird Is this Trial?
Thus far, not too weird, although there have been a couple of strange moments. On Wednesday, March 22, Paltrow’s lawyers complained about overzealous press harassing her inside and out of the courtroom, calling out a photojournalist from the Associated Press who was pointing a camera directly at Paltrow’s face in the courtroom instead of at the lectern (a supposed violation of courtroom decorum). Then, on Thursday, March 23, Paltrow’s legal team offered to bring snacks for the courtroom security. The judge declined.
How Long Will It Go On?
It started Monday, March 20, and is supposed to run for between eight days to two weeks.
Will Gwyneth Paltrow Take the Stand?
Probably. Legal experts thought she would deliver testimony on Thursday, March 23. She may instead take the stand on Friday or Monday.
Can I Watch the Trial?
Yep—it’s being streamed live on YouTube.