The lawyer representing Gwyneth Paltrow in a lawsuit alleging that the movie star seriously injured a man while skiing at Deer Valley seven years ago offered jurors on Tuesday an alternate version of what happened on the slopes: The plaintiff plowed into Paltrow from behind — not the other way around, he argued — and Paltrow initially believed she was being physically attacked.
“She’s skiing, enjoying herself,” attorney Stephen Owens said on the first day of the civil trial in Park City. “And she … suddenly she sees two skis appear between her skis. And a man comes up right behind her.”
That man was Terry Sanderson, a then-69-year-old, retired optometrist who said he suffered four broken ribs and head injuries in the Feb. 26, 2016 skiing crash, which he alleges that Paltrow caused, according to the lawsuit he filed in 2019. (Deer Valley Resort and a handful of its employees were originally named as co-defendants in the complaint, but a judge dismissed them from the case last year.)
“He comes up, almost body-to-body … and starts groaning,” Owens said, which left the Oscar-winning actor wondering if she was being physically assaulted as they crashed.
Though Paltrow’s version of events is diametrically opposite to what Sanderson said happened, Owens also suggested to jurors Tuesday that it’s possible “no one” was at fault.
“There are inherent risks of skiing,” he said.
Sanderson’s attorney instead argued Tuesday that Paltrow violated the rules of the slope by taking her attention away from where she was headed before she plowed into Sanderson, he contested.
“She turns her head up to look at her children,” attorney Lawrence Buhler said. “As she turns her head back down, she screams, then skis into the back of Terry Sanderson.” The two of them “hit the ground hard,” he said, leaving Sanderson seriously injured.
Buhler told jurors that there was only one eyewitness who saw the collision — Craig Ramon, an acquaintance of Sanderson’s, who testified Tuesday afternoon that the crash was Paltrow’s fault because she plowed into Sanderson from behind.
Owens on Tuesday questioned Ramon’s “crazy story,” which he said is “ridiculous.”
Who is expected to testify?
Sanderson’s lawyer said his client’s injuries are permanent and debilitating; Paltrow’s lawyer argued that Sanderson’s prior medical conditions — including blindness in one eye — contributed to the crash. He also questioned the extent of Sanderson’s injuries and whether they continue to affect him today.
A few hours after the crash, Sanderson texted his daughter, “I’m famous,” Owens also told jurors, suggesting it was evidence that he was not seriously injured. Buhler told jurors that the text proved nothing about his client’s condition.
Both sides said they intended to rely on testimony from medical experts, and indicated that Sanderson and Paltrow will both take the stand.
Aside from Sanderson’s acquaintance, other witnesses will include two of Sanderson’s daughters, as well as his girlfriend at the time of the crash.
Paltrow’s then-fiance/now-husband, television producer Brad Falchuk (of “Glee,” “American Horror Story,” “9-1-1″), is also expected to testify, as well as her two children, Apple and Moses, from her first marriage to Chris Martin of Coldplay.
Paltrow is countersuing for “symbolic damages” of $1, plus legal fees. “Gwyneth was hurt by Mr. Sanderson’s negligence,” Owens said Tuesday, adding that she had a “prior knee problem” that was exacerbated by the crash, although she “never went to a doctor” for it.
Paltrow filed the countersuit in part, Owens said, because she was unable to return to the slopes after the crash. “She lost her full-day pass that she had paid for, and she only got to ski half a day,” he told jurors Tuesday, noting that the ski instructor Paltrow had hired to teach her son was “diverted … to take care of this collision issue.”
“She came for a family vacation [and] half the afternoon was kind of ruined. And so that dollar is important to us,” Owens said. “Important to my client.”
Owens also argued that Sanderson, who is now 76, is “obsessed with this lawsuit,” and that the trial, which is expected to last eight days, could get rough.
“I don’t want to look like I’m beating up on a kindly old man,” he said. “But keep in mind we have to do this because they have said, ‘Gwyneth owes me $3 million,’” he said, citing damages that Sanderson claimed in his initial complaint. “We have to address that. So I kind of apologize in advance.”