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Gwyneth Paltrow Ski Crash Trial: Who’s Who

Gwyneth Paltrow is on trial over a 2016 ski accident in Utah involving a retired optometrist who claims he suffered life-altering injuries.

Terry Sanderson, 76, says the Hollywood actress was distracted and caused the crash. He is seeking $300,000 (£245,000) in damages.

Ms Paltrow, 50, denies the charge, and has countersued for $1 plus compensation for attorneys’ fees.

The civil trial has turned on the testimony of its many characters.

Terry Sanderson

Mr Sanderson first filed suit against Ms Paltrow in 2019, three years after their collision.

The former US army captain and optometrist, who says he has never been injured in more than 30 years of skiing, accuses the Oscar winner of being “reckless” and racing into him from behind on a beginner slope at the upscale Deer Valley Resort in western Utah.

Lawyers for Mr Sanderson, who was 69 at the time, allege Ms Paltrow was distracted by her children and emitted a “blood-curdling scream” before landing on top of him, then left him “lying in the snow” without calling for help.

He claims the February 2016 crash left him unconscious, and that he suffered a traumatic brain injury and four broken ribs, as well as “loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress and disfigurement”

He initially sought $3.1m over what he deems a “hit and run”, but that lawsuit was dismissed last May.

He took the stand twice during the trial, defending himself against allegations he is trying to exploit a celebrity.

Gwyneth Paltrow

A movie star-turned-lifestyle influencer, Ms Paltrow rejects the plaintiff’s version of events and alleges he skied directly into her back.

Taking the stand last Friday, she testified that she was going downhill when she saw a pair of skis appear between hers, heard “strange grunting” noises and felt a body pressing into her from behind.

Her first impression was that she was being sexually assaulted, she said, claiming they fell on the ground together, skis tangled up, and were “almost spooning”.

She told the court she had screamed a profanity at Mr Sanderson and did not ask him if he was OK because she felt “hurt and violated”. The crash left Ms Paltrow with a sore knee but no other injuries.

Her lawyers argue that Mr Sanderson brought his suit because of Ms Paltrow’s fame and wealth. They also blame the crash in part on several pre-existing medical conditions Mr Sanderson had, including hearing and vision loss from a stroke.

Sanderson family

Two of Mr Sanderson’s daughters’ – Polly Sanderson-Grasham and Shae Herath – testified last week that their father changed significantly after the crash.

Ms Sanderson-Grasham said a man who was once “outgoing” and “gregarious” now gets “agitated” and “easily frustrated”.

She tearfully recounted one particular incident in which he was so upset she “almost expected drool to be coming out of his mouth” and knew something was “terribly wrong”.

But she also said her father had become “obsessed” with getting an apology from Ms Paltrow.

On Friday, Ms Paltrow’s lawyers questioned Ms Herath over emails exchanged with her father. In an email with the subject line “I’m famous… At what cost?”, Mr Sanderson said it was “cool” he had collided with a celebrity.

Ms Herath said Mr Sanderson had grown “very insecure” and “doesn’t trust his brain anymore”, adding that his grand-daughter did not want to be near him anymore because he was verbally abusive.

“This is not my dad. This is an alternate version of my dad,” she said.

Paltrow family

Due to time constraints, the jury did not hear from Ms Paltrow’s two children – Apple, 18, and Moses, 16 – or her husband Brad Falchuk, as had been originally planned.

None of the three were witnesses to the collision, but in written depositions read out in court, the children said their mother was “shaken up” and “visibly upset” after the crash.

The court has also heard that Ms Paltrow organised the ski trip so that her kids could “blend” with Mr Falchuk, a TV producer and writer whom she married in 2018, and his two children from a previous marriage. They had paid more than $9,000 for private ski lessons at the resort that day.

Mr Sanderson’s attorneys claim Moses, then nine, shouted “mommy, mommy, watch me” and unwittingly distracted her before the collision.

The Deer Valley team

Ski instructors Eric Christiansen and Kari Oakes were teaching Ms Paltrow’s children when the crash happened, and Mr Christiansen went on to file Deer Valley’s incident report.

Mr Sanderson accused Mr Christiansen, who did not witness the collision, of being a “bully” who had been hostile and adamant the accident was his fault.

On the stand, Mr Christiansen rejected allegations he was lying to help Ms Paltrow “cover up” what she did. He testified she was not “reckless” and “doesn’t go down the hill screaming”.

Whitney Smith, a member of Deer Valley’s ski patrol team who helped Mr Sanderson off the mountain, said Mr Sanderson was disoriented after the crash but passed his cognitive tests – contradicting testimony that suggested he may have had a concussion.

The doctors

Each side called four doctors – with expertise in neurology – to the stand as expert witnesses to bolster their case.

Dr Alina Fong, a neuropsychologist, said Mr Sanderson’s symptoms had “completely changed his life”, while Dr Sam Goldstein, another neuropsychologist, said his struggles were “the kind of stuff you better understand if you follow someone around for two weeks”.

Dr Wendell Gibby, a neuro-radiologist, described him as an intelligent man who had clearly lost “the ability to function at a high level”.

But the defence’s doctors asserted that Mr Sanderson suffered “at most, a mild concussion” – if he even suffered one – and that it was more likely his pre-existing medical issues were getting worse with age.

“Anxiety can drive perception of a lot of these difficulties,” said Dr Angela Eastvold, a neuropsychologist.

“I would evaluate [him] for dementia,” said neurologist Dr Robert Hoesch.

The eye-witness

The collision was allegedly captured by a GoPro camera, but the footage has not been found or included as evidence in the trial.

Ms Paltrow’s legal team has called it “the most important piece of evidence” for the trial, indicating it will prove she was positioned downhill from Mr Sanderson and – per ski etiquette – had the right of way.

It is unclear why footage, if it exists, has gone missing – but there was at least one eye-witness to the crash.

Craig Ramone, 58, an acquaintance of Mr Sanderson’s, told the court Tuesday that they were skiing together when he heard a scream and saw Ms Paltrow “hit [Mr Sanderson] directly in the back”.

The crash sent his friend “face down, spread eagle, with Gwyneth on top of him”, but Ms Paltrow slid off him and bolted from the scene while he lay unresponsive, Mr Ramone testified.

Source : BBC