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Gwyneth Paltrow took the witness stand Friday in the civil trial that has pitted the Oscar winner against a retired optometrist with whom she collided during a ski trip in 2016.
A 76-year-old optometrist, Dr. Terry Sanderson, has accused the actress and wellness guru of a hit-and-run crash — slamming into him while skiing on a beginner’s run at Deer Valley Resort, causing ongoing injuries, and then quickly leaving the scene along with her instructor. Specifically, he alleges Paltrow, 50, delivered a “full body hit” resulting in permanent traumatic brain injury, four broken ribs, pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.
Paltrow took the stand in a black suit and occasionally seeming weary, or wryly amused, by the proceedings. She was initially asked about her skiing experience and her understanding of the rules of the slopes.
“I was hit by Mr. Sanderson and he was at fault,” Paltrow declared. “I assume that Eric [Christiansen] — who was our ski instructor who was there at the time, who was overseeing the event — he said, ‘I’m going to leave all of your information,’ and he said, ‘You should go ski down’ because my kids were waiting for me.”
Sanderson’s attorney, Kristin Van Orman, pressed for Paltrow to admit she left the scene without personally exchanging information with her client: “But my question was: Did you know of the rule of skiing? At the time of the collision, were you aware of the rule that if you’re in a collision, you need to share your name, your contact information with the person that you’re involved in collision?”
“I don’t think I was aware of the rule,” Paltrow replied.
“Were you aware that there is kind of a common decency to do that?”
“I would not have left the scene without leaving my information,” Paltrow said, and added again that her instructor left her information.
Paltrow described feeling anger and confusion after having — as she tells it — a stranger suddenly crash into her and fall on top of her, and says for a moment wondered if she was being sexually assaulted. “I was skiing and two skis came between my skis, forcing my legs apart, and then there was a body pressing against me and there was a very strange grunting noise,” she said. “So my brain was trying to make sense of what was happening. I thought, ‘Is this a practical joke? Is someone doing something perverted? This is really, really strange.’ … I didn’t know if it was an accident, but he was groaning and grunting in a very disturbing way.”
“Was he grinding or thrusting in some way?” Orman asked.
“It was a quick thought that went through my head when I was trying to reconcile what was happening,” Paltrow said, and made it clear she does not, in retrospect, think it was a sexual attack.
When she was accused of not showing sympathy, or following up to find out about Sanderson’s injuries, Paltrow countered, “When you’re the victim of a crash, your psychology is not necessarily thinking about the person who perpetuated it.” And later noted, “I feel very sorry for him. It seems like he’s had a difficult life. But I did not cause the accident so I cannot be at fault for anything that subsequentally happened to him.”
At one point, Sanderson’s attorney tried to get permission to get Paltrow to actually physically reenact in the courtroom what happened during the accident, but was overruled by the judge.
The examination also had some rather surreal moments that seem to be sparked by Paltrow’s fame, such as Orman asking Paltrow’s height (“just under 5’10″”) and then Orman enthused, “I am so jealous!” Paltrow: “I think I’m shrinking.” Orman: “I have to wear heels just to make it to 5’5″,” with Paltrow dryly assuring, “They’re very nice.”
In another exchange, Orman pressed Paltrow on her friendship with Taylor Swift, related to Swift having also sued somebody for a “symbolic” $1. “You’ve never given Ms. Swift personal intimate gifts for Christmas?” she asked, sparking an amused reaction from Paltrow.
The trial started Tuesday in Park City, Utah, when counsel for both parties gave their opening statements. The proceedings have been streaming online, allowing for nonstop commentary from a growing number of courtroom celebrity drama fans and armchair experts, with many picking on Paltrow for looking bored (though, in fairness, the trial has been fairly boring – at least, until now). Paltrow’s lawyer griped to the judge Wednesday about a camera in the courtroom that was trained on his client’s face.
Paltrow countersued Sanderson in 2019 accusing him of slamming into her instead. She has alleged Sanderson was the uphill skier and plowed into her back. Paltrow says she expressed anger at Sanderson, and he apologized, and then she simply skied on.
The trial has so far had a slew of witnesses, mostly medical professionals focusing on trying to pin down exactly what injuries were endured by Sanderson. Paltrow’s attorneys have explored whether Sanderson’s health problems were overstated or the result of aging or a preexisting condition, and the actress herself has suggested the lawsuit is an attempt to “exploit her celebrity and wealth.”
Sanderson originally sued for $3.1 million in damages, but then later reduced the amount to $300,000. While Paltrow has asked the court for a symbolic $1 plus legal fees (leaving some to wonder why Paltrow, whose estimated worth is around $200 million, hasn’t simply settled). But experts have suggested that for both the Plaintiff and the Defendant, the associate costs of this seven-year legal battle far outweighs any of the potential payouts involved and it has seemingly become a matter of principal for both sides – as well as recouping their sunk-cost investment due to battling each other.
On Thursday, Sanderson’s daughter told the seated jury that her father’s condition has deteriorated and that she wanted “someone to at least apologize or acknowledge, or be held accountable for their decision that day.”
Sanderson himself is expected to also take the witness stand at some point, as is Paltrow’s daughter Apple (18) and son Moses (16), and he husband Brad Falchuk, all of whom accompanied Paltrow on the ski trip.
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