Gwyneth Paltrow trial: Actress testifies in own defense in ski collision case

Why is Gwyneth Paltrow on trial? The movie star is accused of causing a violent ski collision in Utah

ByLisa Respers France, Matt Meyer, Elise Hammond and Alli Rosenbloom, CNN
Saturday, March 25, 2023
Gwyneth Paltrow trial: Actress testifies in own defense in ski collision case
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow has taken the stand to testify in a Utah trial over a 2016 snow skiing accident.

PARK CITY, Utah -- Actress Gwyneth Paltrow has taken the stand to testify in a Utah trial over a 2016 snow skiing accident.

The actress and businesswoman has been present in the courtroom since the trial began on Tuesday when lawyers representing Paltrow and Terry Sanderson, a 76-year-old retired optometrist, presented their opening statements to a seated jury.

The Gwyneth Paltrow ski trial continues Friday, and the actress is expected to testify in her own defense. The actress is accused of causing a crash.

Sanderson has accused Paltrow of crashing into him and causing him lasting injuries and brain damage while they were both skiing on a beginner's run on a Utah mountain in February of 2016. Sanderson also claims Paltrow and her ski instructor skied away after the incident without getting him medical care.

Paltrow filed a countersuit against Sanderson in 2019 claiming that he skied into her.

The two have been in a legal battle for seven years.

Paltrow's testimony

Paltrow took the stand just before 3pm local time and was questioned by Sanderson's attorney, Kristin A. VanOrman.

The Goop founder said on the day of the collision with Sanderson, she was skiing with her two kids, then-boyfriend Brad Falchuk and his two children.

The trip, Paltrow said, was the first time she and now-husband Falchuk were introducing their children to each other, in hopes of seeing if they collectively had a future as a "blended family."

The collision happened on the first day of their trip to Deer Valley Resort, she said.

All of the children, who are around the same age, were taking a ski lesson on the day of the crash, Paltrow said. She testified that while she didn't recall the exact cost of the lessons, they spent several thousand dollars, plus tips, for the lessons.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow has taken the stand to testify in a Utah trial over a 2016 snow skiing accident.

When asked if she was a good tipper, Paltrow answered, "yes."

Paltrow then repeated her assertion that Sanderson skied directly into her back and caused the collision.

"He struck me in the back, yes, that's exactly what happened," Paltrow said, as the lawyer read back a portion of her description of the events from a deposition.

At one point, VanOrman had hoped to use Paltrow in a courtroom reenactment of the ski crash but had to settle for acting out the scenario herself after the judge rejected the idea.

Paltrow testified that she was trying to figure out what was happening in the moments during and directly after the collision with Sanderson, describing him as making grunting noises.

She testified Friday that two skis came in between her skis, forcing her legs apart and then "there was a body pressing against me and there was a very strange grunting noise."

VanOrman walked around the courtroom trying to demonstrate where the skis were and how Paltrow and Sanderson were positioned, based on how Paltrow described the incident.

Paltrow said that at one point during the incident, she didn't know if it was an accident and froze.

They both came crashing down together, Paltrow said, confirming that her knee and both of their skis were tangled up. In her deposition, being read by the lawyer, Paltrow said "our bodies were almost spooning and I moved away quickly."

Paltrow said she did not ask about the condition of Sanderson after they collided, but claimed she stayed on the mountain "long enough for him to say that he was OK" and to stand up.

Paltrow apologized for using profanity and yelling at Sanderson after the collision.

"I was very upset, and it was still very strange to me what had happened," she said. "I was very angry at what had happened."

She said after the accident, her knee felt like it had been "over-stretched" and her "back hurt," but she did not seek medical care, opting instead to get a massage.

When later asked if she believed the testimony given by Craig Ramon, Sanderson's friend who was on the slopes the day of the collision and testified Tuesday, Paltrow said she did not.

Ramon is the only eyewitness to the accident, according to Sanderson's legal team.

Sanderson had initially sued Paltrow for $3.1 million dollars, but later amended his complaint and is now seeking more than $300,000 in damages, according to court documents.

Paltrow is seeking $1 in damages, plus attorneys' fees.

VanOrman asked if the $1 that Paltrow was seeking was inspired by a 2017 case involving singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, but Paltrow said that she had not been aware of Swift's case at the time.

"Are you good friends with Taylor Swift," VanOrman asked.

Paltrow answered, "No."

She added: "I would not say we're good friends. We are friendly. I've taken my kids to one of her concerts before, but we don't talk very often."

The pop star won a lawsuit in 2017 against radio host David Mueller, who she had said groped her at a meet-and-greet event in June 2013. Mueller was required to pay $1 in damages.

VanOrman asked Paltrow whether or not the damages she was seeking was symbolic, to which Paltrow answered: "It's symbolic because the damages would actually be more."

Upon questioning by her legal team, Paltrow was asked if she had sympathy for Sanderson. Paltrow said, "You know, I really do."

"I feel very sorry for him. It seems like he's had a very difficult life, but I did not cause the accident so I cannot be at fault for anything that subsequently happened to him," she testified.

Trial so far

In the days since the trial began, a series of witnesses have testified.

Friday's proceedings kicked off with the conclusion of videotaped testimony given by Richard Boehme, a biomedical engineer, who acted as an expert witness.

Mark Herath, a longtime friend of Sanderson and avid skier, then took the stand, speaking to Sanderson's skiing skills prior to the accident, among other subjects.

Sanderson's daughter, Shae Sanderson Herath, took the stand shortly before noon local time. Sanderson Herath is married to Mark Herath's brother.

Sanderson Herath said on the stand that her father "doesn't trust his brain anymore."

"From his daughter's perspective, I feel that his life is exhausting," she said.

Radiologist Wendell Gibby testified on Wednesday that Sanderson "deteriorated" after the collision and stopped doing many of the activities he did prior to the incident. The jury also heard expert witness testimony from neuropsychologist Sam Goldstein, who evaluated Sanderson in 2020 and testified about various shifts in Sanderson's mental health since the collision.

On Thursday, Sanderson's daughter Polly Sanderson Grasham gave emotional testimony about how a year and a half after the crash, she noticed her father's "processing speed" appeared to have changed. Sanderson Grasham later said her father is a "principled man" and that she believes that he wants "someone to at least apologize or acknowledge or be held accountable for their decision that day."

Video depositions of Alina K. Fong, a clinical neuropsychologist who treated Sanderson following the collision, and Richard Boehme, a biomedical engineer who testified as an expert witness, were also played for the jury on Thursday. Boehme evaluated Sanderson in 2021 and testified that he believed the injuries Sanderson sustained to his ribs could have only been the result of being struck from behind.

In the court documents originally filed by Sanderson and obtained by CNN in 2019, Sanderson stated that while skiing at Deer Valley Resort, Paltrow allegedly "skied out of control ... knocking him down hard, knocking him out, and causing a brain injury, and four broken ribs and other serious injuries."

According to Paltrow's countersuit, she "was enjoying skiing with her family on vacation in Utah, when Plaintiff -- who was uphill from Ms. Paltrow -- plowed into her back. She sustained a full 'body blow.' Ms. Paltrow was angry with Plaintiff, and said so. Plaintiff apologized. She was shaken and upset, and quit skiing for the day even though it was still morning."

Court is expected to resume on Monday.

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