A lawyer for Hollywood star Gwyneth Paltrow has branded claims she violently crashed into a retired optometrist on the slopes of an upmarket ski resort “utter BS” as her husband, children and medical experts are expected to testify in the coming days.
The Oscar winner for Shakespeare in Love, 50, is being sued for $300,000 (£244,000) in damages by retired optometrist Terry Sanderson, 76, who claims she skied out of control on the beginners slopes at Deer Valley in Utah before crashing into him, leaving him with brain injuries, broken ribs and emotional distress.
Ms Paltrow claims Mr Sanderson was at fault in the collision and has countersued for $1 in damages, with her legal team alleging he is overstating his injuries and trying to exploit her celebrity status and wealth. Mr Sanderson’s initial claim for $3.1m described the accident as a “hit and run”. It has since been downgraded to $300,000 in damages.
On Tuesday, the Goop lifestyle brand founder appeared in court opposite Mr Sanderson and tried to shield her face from reporters with a blue “GP” initialled notebook. Jurors were strictly warned not to research the trial on the internet, as it was streamed live on Court TV accompanied by a string of commentary from those watching at home.
Ms Paltrow’s lawyer Steve Owens said Mr Sanderson crashed into his client in what has been labelled a “full body blow”. He described how Ms Paltrow was skiing with her children from her marriage to Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Apple Martin, 18, and Moses Martin, 16, and now-husband Brad Falchuk, 52, in a “sentimental” trip following the death of her father and said the jury was “going to hear from” members of her family in the coming days.
“It was a sentimental issue because she had started getting back into skiing and she did it because she wanted her kids to learn like she had,” Mr Owens said in his opening argument. “And [Falchuk] has kids the exact same age as Gwyneth’s daughter and son,” Mr Owens told the court. “And this was really their first trip to sort of a have a mixed, see-if-this-might-work. So it was a special time and it was a lovely day.”
He said after the collision occurred members of her group checked on Mr Sanderson who assured them he was fine, in an interaction Mr Sanderson said he did not recall.
He also warned the jury against feeling sorry for the retiree with his medical ailments, saying he had posted a “very happy, smiling picture” of himself online after the crash and questioned his credibility.
“His memories of the case get better over the years. That’s all I’m gonna say. That’s not how memory works,” Mr Owens said.
He described the notion that Ms Paltrow had left him on the slopes as “kind of an offensive one”. “That she somehow left him, an unconscious man, and bolted. And, it’s, it’s – I can tell you, we believe it to be utter B.S.”
By contrast, Mr Sanderson’s lawyers painted Ms Paltrow as uncaring and out of touch, saying she left him on the slopes as she skiied off with her entourage. Central to the case is who was further downhill on the mountain, which determines who has right of way in Utah.
“All skiers know that when they’re skiing down the mountain, it’s their responsibility to yield the right of way to skiers below them,” Mr Sanderson’s attorney, Lawrence Buhler, told jurors.
He described his client’s military service record and how he had suffered broken ribs and brain trauma after the crash, leaving him with physical and emotional injuries in contrast to Ms Paltrow’s luxury lifestyle.
“She hires multiple ski instructors for her children, which allows them to skip the lines. Private instructors cost thousands of dollars per day,” he said
The jury also heard from Mr Sanderson’s ex-girlfriend Karlene Davidson who said the crash had “changed” him and led to the end of their relationship. Another man, Craig Ramon testified that Ms Paltrow hit Mr Sanderson and said that afterward, one of her family’s ski instructors came up to him and said: “Your buddy just took out Gwyneth Paltrow.”
A list of witnesses has not been provided, however lawyers said Wendell Gibby and Sam Goldstein – a radiologist and neuropsychologist – would likely be called to testify on Wednesday. The trial is set to run for eight days.