Gwyneth Paltrow gets vindication at ski collision trial
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Gwyneth Paltrow wasn’t to blame for a 2016 collision with a retired optometrist on a beginner run at a posh Utah ski resort during a family vacation, a jury decided Thursday following a live-streamed trial that became a pop culture fixation.
A jury awarded Paltrow $1 — a symbolic amount she asked for in order to show it wasn’t about money — and delivered her the vindication she sought when she opted to take it to trial rather than settle out of court.
“I felt that acquiescing to a false claim compromised my integrity,” Paltrow said in a statement released by her representatives that she also posted as an Instagram story for her 8.3 million followers. She also thanked the judge and jury for their work.
As Paltrow left court she touched Terry Sanderson’s shoulder and told him, “I wish you well,” he told reporters outside court. He responded, “Thank you dear.”
Paltrow's attorney, Steve Owens, added in a statement he read outside court that “Gwyneth has a history of advocating for what she believes in – this situation was no different and she will continue to stand up for what is right.”
Paltrow, an actor who in recent years has refashioned herself into a celebrity wellness entrepreneur, looked to her attorneys with a pursed lips smile when the judge read the eight-member jury’s verdict in the Park City courtroom. She sat intently through two weeks of testimony in what became the biggest celebrity court case since actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard faced off last year.
After the verdict was read, the judge polled the jury, which was unanimous on the decision. In civil court in Utah, only three-fourths of jurors need to agree on a verdict. The attorney fees Paltrow asked for in her countersuit were not included in the jury’s verdict, leaving the bulk of the final award for the Park City judge to decide.
Addressing reporters after the verdict, Sanderson questioned whether the lawsuit was worth it and said he believed that people tend to naturally trust celebrities like Paltrow.
“You get some assumed credibility from being a famous person," Sanderson said. "Really, who wants to take on a celebrity?”
The dismissal concludes two weeks of courtroom proceedings that hinged largely on reputation rather than the monetary damages at stake in the case. Paltrow’s attorneys described the complaint against her as “utter B.S.” and painted the Goop founder-CEO as uniquely vulnerable to unfair, frivolous lawsuits due to her celebrity.
Paltrow took the witness stand during the trial to insist that the collision wasn’t her fault, and to describe how she was stunned when she felt “a body pressing against me and a very strange grunting noise.”
Throughout the trial, the word “uphill” became synonymous with “guilty, ” as attorneys focused on a largely unknown skiing code of conduct that stipulates that the skier who is downhill or ahead on the slope has the right of way.
Worldwide audiences followed the celebrity trial as if it were episodic television. Viewers scrutinized both Paltrow and Sanderson’s motives while attorneys directed questions to witnesses that often had less to do with the collision and more to do with their client’s reputations.
The trial took place in Park City, a resort town known for hosting the annual Sundance Film Festival, where early in her career Paltrow would appear for the premieres of her movies including 1998’s “Sliding Doors,” at a time when she was known primarily as an actor, not a lifestyle influencer. Paltrow is also known for her roles in “Shakespeare in Love” and the “Iron Man” movies.
The jury’s decision marks a painful court defeat for Sanderson, the man who sued Paltrow for more than $300,000 over injuries he sustained when they crashed on the ski slope at Deer Valley Resort.
“He never returned home that night as the same man. Terry has tried to get off that mountain but he’s really still there,” attorney Robert Sykes said during closing arguments.
Both parties blamed the other for the collision. Sanderson, 76, broke four ribs and sustained a concussion after the two tumbled down the slope, with Paltrow landing on top of him.
He filed an amended complaint after an earlier $3.1 million lawsuit was dismissed. In response, Paltrow countersued for $1 and attorney fees, a symbolic action that mirrors Taylor Swift’s response to a radio host’s defamation lawsuit. Swift was awarded $1 in 2017.
Paltrow’s defense team represented Sanderson as an angry, aging and unsympathetic man who had over the years become “obsessed” with his lawsuit against Paltrow. They argued that Paltrow wasn’t at fault in the crash and also said, regardless of blame, that Sanderson was overstating the extent of his injuries.
AP writer Anna Furman contributed from Los Angeles.
Sam Metz, The Associated Press