Even before Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski collision trial had started, the case had already gone off piste.
It took three years for retired optometrist Terry Sanderson to even file a claim over the 2016 incident in Utah, and another four years of legal wrangling before it went before a jury.
But last week in Park City, Utah, home to the Sundance Film Festival, the court finally heard opening arguments in what soon became an utter spectacle, made worse because it was televised.
Mr Sanderson’s lawyers told the jury they were seeking $300,000 (£245,000) in damage because Ms Paltrow was “reckless”. The figure had been reduced from $3.1m (£2.5m) after the judge dismissed some charges.
His lawyers alleged that the actor was distracted by her son Moses, then nine, shouting “Mummy, Mummy!” and hit Mr Sanderson from behind, leaving him with four broken ribs and a permanent brain injury.
Stephen Owens, Ms Paltrow’s lawyer, said she was countersuing for a token $1 – which he held up before the jury.
He called the case “utter BS” and said it was Mr Sanderson who crashed into Ms Paltrow.
Medical experts testifying for Mr Sanderson said that the brain injury caused by the crash led to him becoming angrier, incapable of concentrating on one task, and “obsessed” with the case.
Two of his daughters gave emotional testimony to that effect, with one, Shae Herath giving a tearful anecdote of him shouting at her 11-year-old daughter for no reason.
Ms Paltrow’s lawyers sought to discredit the women’s claims by using evidence from Mr Sanderson’s youngest daughter, Jenny, that he was emotionally and verbally abusive to her, once getting in her face and screaming: “F*** you!”
It was a jarring contrast to see a lawyer for Ms Paltrow – whose wholesomeness is a key part of her Goop lifestyle brand – turning family members against each other to try to win her case.
All of that built up to the testimony of Ms Paltrow herself, whose fashion choices in court were dissected as much as her comments, not least her aviator glasses, which earned comparisons to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer – they were not seen again after that.
In the witness box, Ms Paltrow denied engaging in any “risky behaviour” and said that Mr Sanderson “categorically” hit her in the back.
When Mr Sanderson’s skis slid between hers and she felt him on her back, her initial thought was that she was being sexually assaulted, seh testified. “Is this a practical joke? Is someone doing something perverted? There was a groan coming out of his mouth,” the Iron Man star told the jury.
Rather than fleeing the scene, Ms Paltrow’s family ski instructor handed over her details, the court was told.
Ms Paltrow did little to hide her incredulity towards the proceedings. She could barely contain her laughter when Mr Sanderson’s lawyer Kristin VanOrman asked if her friend Taylor Swift was the inspiration for her suing for $1, as that was the amount the singer had sued a radio DJ for in a groping case.
Ms Paltrow said no. Undeterred, Ms VanOrman then asked if Ms Paltrow had ever given Swift any “intimate, personal gifts”, an apparent reference to a 2021 Goop Christmas video in which the Oscar winner jokingly put a vibrator in a bag for the singer.
The judge stopped her from answering.
In another ruling that saved Ms Paltrow from embarrassment, the judge rebuffed a request from Ms VanOrman for her to recreate the accident in the well of the court, leaving the attorney to do it herself. The cross-examination became so absurd that at points it felt like a skit for Saturday Night Live.
Ms Paltrow’s efforts to control her image included objecting to the Associated Press installing a second video camera in court that would focus on her the whole time – the judge had it removed.
The few instances when the camera angle was wide enough to see her reaction have been revealing. When Ms Herath claimed a ski instructor who took her father off the mountain was an “angel” who was “taking care of him finally after a long time of being ignored on the mountain”, Ms Paltrow had her arms crossed and was shaking her head.
When Ms VanOrman claimed the actress “lied under oath a number of times”, her jaw hit the floor, and her lawyer jumped up to object to the “slanderous” comments.
There is a reason cases such as this involving celebrities do not come to court very often, not least because they are not worth their time and money.
However, Ms Paltrow seems intent on fighting this all the way and is even flying in Moses, now 16; her daughter Apple, 18; and her TV producer husband Brad Falchuk on Monday morning to give evidence on her behalf.
Before them, we are set to hear from Mr Sanderson, who will face off against the woman he claims “bolted” from the scene of the accident that ruined his life.
If the first week of evidence is anything to do by, it is going to be quite a scene.