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Actress Gwyneth Paltrow appeared in a Park City courtroom Tuesday on the first day of a trial to consider whether she is at fault for injuring a man while skiing at Deer Valley Resort seven years ago.
Paltrow sat next to her lawyers and appeared engaged in the trial throughout the first full day of testimony. She nodded in agreement as her attorney talked about her actions after the collision, but did not show outward signs of emotion.
When the court session went on a break, she tried to cover her face from the camera as she walked to a private room with her attorneys, and she left soon after the trial in a car that was waiting at the door for her. Members of the news media were instructed not to ask her or her family members questions during the trial.
A six-woman, four-man jury heard testimony throughout the day from a man who was skiing on the slopes that day, and a woman who was dating the man involved in the collision at the time.
The trial is likely the first in Utah's state courts to be livestreamed on YouTube. Court TV sought permission and it was granted by the judge.
A Utah man is seeking over $300,000 from the Hollywood actress, after claiming she ran into him on the slopes.
The lawsuit was filed in 2019, three years after the ski crash, by Terry Sanderson, a retired optometrist who worked in Soda Springs, Idaho. He said a ski collision between him and Paltrow on Feb. 26, 2016, left him with a brain injury, four broken ribs and emotional damage.
Initially, the lawsuit sought at least $3.1 million from Paltrow. Third District Judge Kent Holmberg dismissed some claims against Paltrow in May 2022, ruling that it was not a "hit-and-run ski crash" as Sanderson claimed. He decided Paltrow did not negligently inflict emotional distress and that Sanderson was not entitled to punitive damages.
I am in Park City today at a jury trial for Gwyneth Paltrow. A Utah man is seeking damages after he claims she negligently ran into him on the slopes while skiing at Deer Valley Resort seven years ago. Paltrow just walked into the court room.
— Emily Ashcraft (@emilyjaneen3) March 21, 2023
Paltrow filed a counterclaim, alleging that Sanderson hit her from behind. She said she did not hear or see the man approach and had been skiing carefully and slowly to stay behind her children who were receiving skiing instruction.
Lawrence Buhler, attorney for Sanderson, opened the trial by saying Paltrow was looking to the side and behind her while she was skiing on the mountain that day, and knew that such actions were dangerous and could seriously hurt someone.
He said one of Paltrow's children asked her to watch them ski and she did, turning her eyes to the side. Buhler said a witness who was skiing in a group with Sanderson saw Paltrow turn her face forward, scream and then hit Sanderson from behind; the weight of both of them broke four of his ribs and he got a concussion and a brain injury from hitting his head, although he was wearing a helmet.
Buhler said Paltrow was on Deer Valley Resort's Bandana ski run with a group of 10 people, including four ski instructors. Although it is a green run, the 3/4-mile route has signs warning people to "go slowly," and skiers can pick up speed if they don't make turns, he said.
"It's the uphill skier's responsibility to yield the right of way to the people below ... especially on a beginner run. They know that skiers may be less experienced and that skiers below them trust that the ones coming behind are paying attention," Buhler said.
He said Paltrow and a ski instructor "bolt(ed)" down the mountain shortly after the incident, before Sanderson's friend determined that he could not continue to ski.
Sanderson has had issues arise after the crash and Buhler said "his ability to cope with life is diminished." He added that family members will talk about how he has changed since the crash — from an alleged brain injury — and doctors will talk about how the injuries show he was hit from behind. For some of those witnesses, Buhler said Sanderson will not be in the courtroom.
He said the value of the damage caused by the collision is $3.276 million.
Another side to the story
Stephen Owens, attorney for Paltrow, said he thinks the jury will find that no one is at fault — "skiing is dangerous and collisions happen."
"There are inherent risks of skiing," he said.
He presented a very different story of the same events and said Paltrow had gone skiing with her two children, her then-boyfriend who she has since married, his two children and ski instructors for each child. Owens said skiing is nostalgic for Paltrow, as she skied with her late father. She is typically "a conservative skier," and stays to the right on runs, he said.
"She is focused, she is not distracted. She got taken out from behind, that's what happened," Owens said.
Recounting Paltrow's experience, Owens said two skis suddenly came between hers, from behind her. He said she did not know what was happening, was "freaking out" and eventually the two skiers fell to the right — with her falling on top and their skis intertwined.
Sanderson apologized afterward, saying he didn't know what had happened, Owens said, adding that Sanderson also did not mention to ski patrollers that he had been hit. An email Sanderson sent to his daughters that day, with the title "I'm famous," had a link to GoPro video that was not made available to Paltrow or her legal team, for whatever reason, Owen said. Then three years after the crash, Owens said Sanderson claimed "Paltrow came out of a jungle like King Kong, screaming."
Owens said a ski instructor with Paltrow's group, Eric Christiansen, put in a report saying the male skier took Paltrow out from behind. He said Christiansen will be testifying later in the Park City trial.
"First thing male skier stated was that she appeared right in front of him, thus admitting that he was the uphill skier. She never saw him because he came in from behind," according to the statement Owens presented to the court in his opening arguments Tuesday.
He said evaluations and scans of Sanderson's brain don't show any new injuries and his mental state is considered normal or above normal, as Sanderson has traveled extensively since the collision, apparently still functioning well.
The only eyewitness?
Beuler said there was only one person who saw the crash — Craig Ramon, and Ramon was called as the first witness in the trial. He said he was an acquaintance of Sanderson and was skiing with him in a group of six people that day as part of a meetup group started by Sanderson.
The man said he was between 35 and 40 feet from the collision, when he said he heard a scream and saw a skier slam into Sanderson's back. He said Sanderson wasn't moving and his face was in the snow; Ramon said he was unresponsive for a couple of minutes. He said Paltrow did not speak to him, but got up from the ground.
Ramon said the next person to come was a ski instructor, Christiansen, who was skiing with Paltrow's group. He said Christiansen was "very hostile" and kept yelling, "What did you do?" After Christiansen helped Sanderson up, Ramon said his friend looked phased and was "totally out of it." He said after Christiansen and others left, he began skiing down with Sanderson but soon flagged down a Deer Valley employee to help.
He said Sanderson was an "advanced expert" in early 2016; they had skied together about six times before the crash. When he came back the next winter season to ski with Sanderson, Ramon said something was off and he was having a hard time.
"He just didn't have it. … He wasn't the same skier as he was the previous year," Ramon said.
Owens in opening arguments contested the claim that Ramon was the only eyewitness besides Paltrow and Sanderson. In a cross examination from Owens, Ramon was asked about a GoPro video and said he had not seen a video from that day.
Owens questioned him about details in his deposition, when he spoke with the attorneys under oath but not in court.
Owens asked how long Paltrow stayed at the scene — during his testimony at the trial Ramon said she stayed about three or four minutes but at the deposition he said she stayed about eight to 10 minutes. During the trial, Ramon said he did not know what Paltrow was wearing at the time of the ski crash, but during his deposition he said she was not wearing a helmet.
The trial is scheduled to end March 30, with eight full days in court. Jurors will consider the one remaining claim against Paltrow of "simple negligence" for her alleged actions prior to the crash.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly said Robert Sykes presented opening arguments for Terry Sanderson instead of Lawrence Buhler.