slippery slopes

Everything You Need to Know About Gwyneth Paltrow’s Ski-Collision Trial

Some say this look is giving Dahmer? Photo: Rick Bower/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Gwyneth Paltrow appeared in a Park City, Utah, courtroom on March 21, rocking aviator glasses (an accessory that invited an unfortunate comparison) and a beige turtleneck sweater for day one of her “ski and run” lawsuit. Goop’s head was first sued by Terry Sanderson, a now-76-year-old retired optometrist, in February 2019, who is alleging Paltrow carelessly struck him on the slopes and caused him to suffer physical and mental injuries. Sanderson initially sued the Oscar winner for $3.1 million in damages, though the amount was eventually reduced to $300,000 after a judge dismissed some of the plaintiff’s claims. The trial, now streaming on Court TV, ended on March 30. In an unanimous decision, the jury sided with Paltrow, awarding her a symbolic $1 in damages. Below, everything you need to know.  

What happened on those ski slopes?

Sanderson was on a Deer Valley Resort green-level ski slope in February 2016 when he and Paltrow collided. Following the incident, the optometrist says he went to an emergency room, where he was treated for a concussion and broken ribs sustained during the crash. Sanderson’s initial filing accused Paltrow of skiing into him from behind, “knocking him down, landing on top of him, and causing him to suffer a concussion, brain injury, and four broken ribs.” He described the crash as a “ski and run,” which caused him to endure “pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, and disfigurement,” as well as “anxiety, depression, and other health problems.” A Utah judge dismissed some of the claims in April 2022 — including the $3.1 million in damages — with Sanderson now seeking $300,000 from Paltrow for claims of negligently causing injury.

While both parties agree that they ran into each other on the ski run, each alleges that the other is at fault for the crash. According to an obscure Utah law, the individual who is downhill has the right of way when skiing and snowboarding. Meaning: The central question of the trial is who was actually farther downhill when they hit each other and who had the right of way. Sanderson, for his part, argues that Paltrow’s reckless skiing resulted in the violent collision and left him on the ground as she and her group went on their way.

What happened in the trial?

Lawyers for both sides read closing arguments to the jury on March 30, the trial’s final day. The plaintiff and the defense continued to maintain that the other party struck their client with the former party all but alleging a conspiracy to keep Paltrow innocent in which ski employees falsified incident reports. Sanderson’s lawyers also argued that Paltrow’s celebrity status does not make her above the law, especially in cases in which she is responsible for the decline of someone’s physical and emotional health, and bizarrely quoted Winston Churchill. The actor’s legal team, meanwhile, once again asserted that no fault lies with Paltrow and asked for $1 in damages for the loss of family-bonding time on the bunny hill. The trial ended with a representative for the media in Utah arguing for the right to have cameras on the defense (including Paltrow’s face) when the verdict is read.

In the previous days, the defense called several additional expert witnesses to testify about Sanderson’s medical records. Neuroradiology expert Dr. Carl Black reviewed an MRI from the plaintiff before the incident, telling the jury that his brain scans showed white matter disease both before and after the collision. Sanderson’s attorney took advantage of the fact that Black used the term blind vaguely. The witness later said he could not comment on the optometrist’s eyesight. Neuropsychologist Dr. Angela Eastvold took the stand before the lunch recess, calling into question the plaintiff’s earlier testimony about his “cognitive scale.”

Dr. Irving Scher, a biomedical-engineering expert, took the stand to review a previous expert-witness theory that argued Paltrow caused the crash. Through what felt like a long math class, the researcher said his calculations suggest that Paltrow’s version of events matches the laws of physics based on descriptions of the incident, including the important fact that all parties agree the skis stayed on during the collision. “I think that accurately reflects the version that Ms. Paltrow testified to, which matches the law of physics and biomechanics as I understand them,” he said. The defense later called on expert witness Dr. Steven Edgley, who said the crash did not cause Sanderson’s cognitive decline. The plaintiff’s team attempted to refute his testimony in their cross-examination, saying that Edgley did not review every single statement from Sanderson’s family. Later, a stand-in read the depositions of Paltrow’s children, Apple and Moses Martin, which matched with much of Paltrow’s testimony of what happened following the incident. They did not witness the crash itself.

Lawyers introduced citizen-obtained evidence on March 27 after a viewer discovered that the MeetUp link — an online platform that Sanderson used to communicate with his ski buddies — was still archived. Both parties have allowed the screenshots to be admitted as evidence. The plaintiff’s best friend, Craig Ramon, who skied with Sanderson on the day of the crash, was called back to the stand to speak to text messages where he claimed “Gwyneth took out Terry and just took off,” though Ramon did not see the collision with his own eyes. Both Sanderson and Paltrow have taken the stand to accuse the other of causing the crash.

The new evidence was far from the only dramatic event during the thrilling eight-day trial concerning two bougie rich people. Last week, Paltrow’s attorney apologized for “being an ass” after an aggressive line of questioning on March 23 that upset one of the plaintiff’s daughters. Before the court recessed for lunch, attorney Stephen Owens put Sanderson’s daughter Polly Sanderson Grasham in the hot seat during a cross-examination, asking her blunt questions about sensitive topics. Paltrow’s lawyer touched on Sanderson’s romantic relationships, his alleged estrangement from his daughter Jenny, and the claim that he struck a man he thought to be having an affair with his wife. “I need to apologize,” Owens said. “I was being an ass earlier. It was wrong for me to triangulate you, your dad and your sister and your mom, and I ask for your forgiveness.”

Prior to cross-examination, Grasham claimed her father lost some mental faculties after the incident. The day began with a video deposition from Sanderson’s clinical neuropsychologist, Alina K. Fong, that spoke to the plaintiff’s brain trauma. Fong agreed that the concussive symptoms could have been unrelated to the collision, with the caveat that “anything is possible but not probable.” Paltrow’s team highlighted an email Sanderson sent after the incident, where he said he was now “famous” and caught the event on his GoPro (footage that is now missing). “To become famous, he will lie,” Owens alleged. “It’s the defendant’s position that he’s faking for gain.”

In first days of the trial, the former doctor’s lawyers argued that Paltrow’s celebrity status and Goop fame do not make her above the law. “All skiers know that when they’re skiing down the mountain, it’s their responsibility to yield the right of way to skiers below them,” Sanderson’s attorney, Lawrence Buhler, told jurors, per the Associated Press. He pointed to her financial status. “She hires multiple ski instructors for her children, which allows them to skip the lines,” he said. “Private instructors cost thousands of dollars per day.”

Paltrow, on the other hand, claims the fault lies with Sanderson, who is the one that crashed into her on the slopes and is countersuing Sanderson for $1 in damages and attorney fees, saying that he rammed into her. Owens argued that Paltrow’s group did check in on Sanderson after the crash, and brought up a “very happy, smiling picture” he posted in Facebook after the incident to claim that the optometrist was okay, per the Associated Press.

Who won?

The jury ultimately sided with Paltrow, in an unanimous decision on March 30 after about two and a half hours of deliberation. Paltrow was awarded the symbolic $1 in damages. In a statement posted to her Instagram story, Paltrow wrote, “I felt that acquiescing to a false claim compromised my integrity. I am pleased with the outcome and I appreciate all of the hard work of Judge Holmberg and the jury, and thank them for their thoughtfulness in handling this case.” Sanderson, in a statement to the press, said, “I didn’t realize that when you go down this road, I thought it’d be about a ski accident, that I knew I had the truth. The absolute facts. And it wasn’t about that.”

What was Terry Sanderson’s testimony?

As for Sanderson, he maintains that Paltrow struck him, though the crash caused him to forget the very immediate aftermath. During his testimony on March 27, he explained that he originally thought he collided with a man and only later found out the person was Paltrow (“I’m not into celebrity worship,” he claimed) and sometimes recounted the events in tears. “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,” he testified. “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.”

Under cross-examination by the defense, Paltrow’s lawyer attempted to discredit Sanderson’s testimony by noting discrepancies between his comments on the stand and his deposition. Owens latched on to Sanderson’s conflicting descriptions of his weight and height at the time of the incident, as well his differing statements about his disregard for Paltrow’s fame. After a barrage of questions, Sanderson eventually said he misspoke while on the stand. “It’s not me, it’s the other personality which is inhabiting my body right now,” Paltrow’s accuser claimed, to which Owens asked, “And you blame Gwyneth Paltrow for that?” “Yes, absolutely,” Sanderson testified. He alleged that he’d left his then-girlfriend and became a recluse due to the accident.

What did Gwyneth Paltrow testify?

Paltrow took the stand in the late afternoon of March 24. Sanderson’s legal team grilled her about the events that led to the collision and its immediate aftermath. The key fact of the trial remains who struck whom — with the plaintiff’s side using Paltrow’s time on the stand to ask about her behavior on the slopes. Asked repeatedly if her children said, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, watch me,” the actor said she did not recall Apple or Moses calling for her attention — even repeating the phrase “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy” — nor were they a distraction. “I was not engaging in any risky behavior,” she insisted. “I wouldn’t with my children there or without my children there.”

After the judge banned any line of questioning about her parenting style and refused to allow a Paltrow-starring reenactment of the incident, the courtroom grew somewhat unserious as Sanderson’s legal counsel herself did an offscreen one-woman show of the events Paltrow described. “I was skiing, and two skis came between my skies, forcing my legs apart, and there was a body pressing upon me,” the Goop founder testified. “Our bodies were almost spooning, and I moved away quickly.” Asked how she knew if the person who struck her was male, she replied, “He was making some strange noises that sounded male, so I’m assuming he was male.”

“I would have freaked out too,” Sanderson’s lawyer said. “And I did,” Paltrow replied. She contends that “Mr. Sanderson categorically hit me on the ski slope, and that is the truth.”

What did Paltrow’s ski instructor see?

The defense called Eric Christiansen, Paltrow’s son’s ski instructor at the time of the incident, to the stand on March 27. While the instructor walked the jury through his story, Paltrow’s legal team played multiple Sims 1–quality animations to depict Christiansen’s version of events at the time of the collision Though he was skiing with the actor’s group at the time, he did not see the crash with his own eyes. He described a relatively empty ski run that made it possible for Sanderson to make giant slalom turns — or large-radius turns that intersect at the center of the run and wedge the skier in the line of traffic. Paltrow, on the other hand, was allegedly making safer, short radius turns, a move that kept her on a more controllable path and away from traffic, according to the instructor.

The animations included a POV version based on Christiansen’s account, a view from downhill, and an overhead view, together with a color-coded who’s-who key and onscreen text — “A sound catches Christiansen’s attention,” for example — to illustrate the timeline. Following the collision, the instructor said he helped disentangle both Paltrow and Sanderson. “Ms. Paltrow was on top,” he said. In his incident report, he wrote that Sanderson was the party at fault. Christiansen denied falsifying the reporting on Paltrow’s behalf.

The defense asked Christiansen to describe the inherent “risks of skiing,” which include running into snowless patches and collisions with stationary objects or people, explaining that those risks are printed on the back of a Deer Valley ski pass.

Sanderson’s lawyers, on the other hand, emphasized the fact that Sanderson did not see the crash during his cross-examination, before the defense called Whitney Smith, a Deer Valley ski-patrol person, to the stand. Paltrow’s team is set to call more witnesses in the coming days.

Who took the stand?

The defense planned to call Apple and Moses to the stand but changed course on March 28, opting to use a stand-in to read their depositions to the jury. Both children agreed that Paltrow was cursing following the ski crash and was visibly distraught. Paltrow’s husband, Brad Falchuk, did not appear as previously reported. Sanderson’s children testified last week about their father’s health.

This post has been updated.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Ski-Collision Trial, Explained