Actor and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow took the stand Friday afternoon for a civil lawsuit regarding a 2016 skiing incident.
Paltrow, 50, has been accused of causing serious injury to retired optometrist Terry Sanderson after she allegedly collided with him while skiing at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah.
Sanderson, 76, alleged Paltrow skied into him, “knocking him down hard, knocking him out.” He claimed the collision caused “permanent traumatic brain injury, 4 broken ribs, pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life.” He maintains that Paltrow left him collapsed on the slope and skied away. He is suing Paltrow for more than US$300,000.
Paltrow denies any responsibility for the crash and is countersuing for $1 and lawyers’ fees. She claims Sanderson is the one who hit her and is now suing to “exploit her celebrity and wealth.”
On Friday afternoon, she told a lawyer from Sanderson’s team that she “was not engaging in any risky behaviour” on the day of the crash, saying she was skiing with her two kids as well as with Brad Falchuk – her boyfriend at the time, now her husband – and his two kids.
The group was taking ski lessons on a green run – considered to be the easiest of runs on a ski hill – at the time, when she said she felt a pair of skis come between her skis, spreading her legs apart, and felt a “large body” hit her from behind.
“There was a body pressing against me and there was a very strange grunting noise,” she testified of the moment of the collision. “My brain was trying to make sense of what was happening. I thought, ‘Am I… is this a practical joke? Is someone, like, doing something perverted?’ This is really really strange,” she said in her testimony, adding that she “froze” while trying to make sense of what was happening.
The pair skied down the hill for a short period, before “someone’s ski caught an edge,” Paltrow testifed, and they collapsed, with Paltrow landing on top of Sanderson, their skis entwined.
“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.
Paltrow said she waited for Sanderson to stand up – “long enough for him to say that he was OK” – before she skied away, adding that she did not ask about his condition any further and did not know the extent of his injuries at the time.
“I think you have to keep in mind when you’re the victim of a crash, right, your psychology is not necessarily thinking about the person who perpetrated it,” Paltrow testified.
Paltrow said she feels empathy for Sanderson, but said she did not give him brain injuries that showed up on an MRI he received in 2016.
“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.
Paltrow brings ‘treats for the bailiffs’
On Thursday, the Goop founder brought “treats” for the law enforcement officers in the courtroom. Before testimony of the day began, Paltrow’s lawyer, Steve Owens, introduced the goodies.
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“Private security for my client wanted to bring in treats for the bailiffs for how helpful they’ve been,” Owens told the judge. “So, I wanted to do that transparently and see if there are any objections.”
Sanderson’s lawyer, Lawrence Buhler, objected to the abnormal request.
Judge Kent Holmberg barred Paltrow and her people from distributing the treats in the courtroom.
“OK, there’s an objection so thank you, but no thank you,” Holmberg said, noting either party could take the treats later if they decided to do so.
It is not clear what kind of treats Paltrow was offering.
Media coverage and cameras in the courtroom
Paltrow and her lawyers have been clearly upset with the amount of media coverage surrounding the civil trial. On Wednesday, the second day in court, Owens argued that a camera with a live video feed should not be pointed at Paltrow and her council table, as per alleged decorum agreements.
“We have a new camera pointed directly at my client, right there, on the right,” Owens told the judge.
Paltrow removed her glasses and remained stoic. Owens said photographers had also swarmed Paltrow at her car outside the courtroom the day prior.
Holmberg recognized the camera “as a problem” and said the court would investigate the request to divert the view and adjust proceedings accordingly. Holmberg did not make a ruling on photography outside of the courtroom.
Paltrow argues Sanderson’s injuries are exaggerated
Paltrow and her lawyers have claimed Sanderson is exaggerating his “traumatic” injuries to capitalize on Paltrow’s celebrity and status.
Psycho-neurologist Dr. Alina Fong, who is Sanderson’s witness, testified on Thursday that Sanderson was diagnosed with persistent post-concussive symptoms (PCS) after the ski incident. All of Sanderson’s medical witnesses have testified his injuries are consistent with someone crashing into him from behind.
Owens previously called Sanderson’s diagnosis and symptoms “utter BS.”
Paltrow’s council said Sanderson was able to travel to 10 countries in the years following the ski accident. They also complained a separate witness for Sanderson, neuroradiology expert Dr. Wendell Gibby, did not review Sanderson’s 2009 MRI that allegedly showed he had sustained past brain injuries.
“I’m famous … At what cost?”
On the same day as the crash between Paltrow and Sanderson, the retired optometrist wrote an email to his daughters with the subject line “I’m famous.”
In a string of emails back and forth, one of Sanderson’s daughters, Shae Herath, insinuated that the collision must have been caught on a GoPro camera. Much of the trial has revolved around whether that GoPro footage exists at all.
In her reply to Sanderson, Herath testified Friday that she changed the email’s subject line to “I’m famous …At what cost?”
She clarified during her testimony that Sanderson called her and said there had been another skier on the hill with a GoPro – though she admitted her memory was “fuzzy,” as she had suffered an injury to her ACL around the same time as her father was allegedly hurt. She said she had never seen GoPro footage of the collision and was not sure it existed.
Sanderson’s changing personality
Herath testified that her father’s personality changed for the worse as a result of the alleged brain injury.
She claimed the trauma left Sanderson frustrated, easily distracted and unable to multitask as he used to. She recalled an incident where Sanderson allegedly “belittled” her own young daughter, his granddaughter, to the point of tears over commotion surrounding how to close a van door.
“He damaged his relationship with her because he was so awful to her,” she said.
Herath claimed the behaviour was “uncharacteristic” of Sanderson prior to his accident.
Mark Herath, Sanderson’s son-in-law, also testified Friday that Sanderson’s personality changed after the ski incident. He claimed Sanderson was hostile, paranoid and difficult to be around.
Polly Sanderson, Sanderson’s other daughter, testified earlier in the week. She was asked by Owens about an incident that allegedly saw Sanderson punch a man he believed to be having an affair with his ex-wife. Polly said she had no memory of the incident.
After a brief recess, Owens apologized for “being an ass” to Polly. He said: “It was wrong for me to triangulate you, your dad and your sister and your mom, and I ask for your forgiveness.”
Paltrow’s ‘Jeffrey Dahmer’ glasses
Much of the online reaction to the Sanderson vs. Paltrow trial has surrounded Paltrow’s fashion choices.
Since the first moments Paltrow appeared in court on Tuesday, social media was flooded with comments about her “Jeffrey Dahmer glasses.”
Though currently in trend, the thin, gold wire frames, complete with a full brow bar, have a striking resemblance to the pair worn by Dahmer, an infamous American serial killer.