Jury says Gwyneth Paltrow not at fault in ski collision

Gwyneth Paltrow wasn't to blame for a 2016 ski collision with a retired optometrist on a beginner run at a posh Utah ski resort during a family vacation, a jury decided Thursday following a livestreamed trial that became a pop culture fixation.

Dismisses complaint of retired optometrist who sued movie star

A blonde woman in a dark coat stands outside a building, looking down.
Gwyneth Paltrow leaves Utah's Park City District Courthouse on Thursday. The actress and entrepreneur won her court battle over a 2016 ski collision after a jury decided she wasn’t at fault. (Kristin Murphy/The Deseret News/The Associated Press)

Gwyneth Paltrow wasn't to blame for a 2016 ski collision with a retired optometrist on a beginner run at a posh Utah ski resort during a family vacation, a jury decided Thursday following a live-streamed trial that became a pop culture fixation.

A jury awarded Paltrow $1 — a symbolic amount she asked for in order to show it wasn't about money — and delivered her the vindication she sought when she opted to take it to trial rather than settle out of court.

"I felt that acquiescing to a false claim compromised my integrity," Paltrow said in a statement released by her representatives that she also posted as an Instagram story for her 8.3 million followers. 

She also thanked the judge and jury for their work.

As Paltrow left court she touched plaintiff Terry Sanderson's shoulder and said, "I wish you well," he told reporters outside the courthouse. He responded, "Thank you dear."

Her attorney, Steve Owens, added in a statement he read outside court that Paltrow "has a history of advocating for what she believes in — this situation was no different and she will continue to stand up for what is right."

Paltrow, an Oscar-winning actor who in recent years has refashioned herself into a celebrity wellness entrepreneur, looked to her attorneys with a pursed-lips smile when the judge read the jury's verdict in the Park City courtroom.

A man sits in a courtroom, surrounded by other men and women.
Retired optometrist Terry Sanderson, seen here in court on Thursday, accused Paltrow of crashing into him on a beginner run at Deer Valley Resort, leaving him with brain damage and four broken ribs. (Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

After the verdict was read, the judge polled the jury, which was unanimous on the decision. In civil court in Utah, only three-fourths of jurors need to agree on a verdict. The attorney fees Paltrow asked for in her countersuit were not included in the jury's verdict, leaving the bulk of the final award for the Park City judge to decide.

Addressing reporters after the verdict, Sanderson questioned whether the lawsuit was worth it and said he believed that people tend to naturally trust celebrities like Paltrow.

"You get some assumed credibility from being a famous person," Sanderson said. "Really, who wants to take on a celebrity?"

The dismissal concludes two weeks of courtroom proceedings that hinged largely on reputation rather than the monetary damages at stake in the case.

Paltrow's attorneys described the complaint against her as "utter B.S." and painted the Goop founder-CEO as uniquely vulnerable to unfair, frivolous lawsuits due to her celebrity.

A much-talked about trial

Paltrow took the witness stand during the trial to insist the collision wasn't her fault, and to describe how she was stunned when she felt "a body pressing against me and a very strange grunting noise."

Throughout the trial, the word "uphill" became synonymous with "guilty" as attorneys focused on a largely unknown skiing code of conduct that stipulates that the skier who is downhill or ahead on the slope has the right of way.

Worldwide audiences followed the celebrity trial as if it were episodic television. Viewers scrutinized both Paltrow and Sanderson's motives while attorneys directed questions to witnesses that often had less to do with the collision and more to do with their clients' reputations.

The trial took place in Park City, a resort town known for hosting the annual Sundance Film Festival, where early in her career Paltrow appeared for the premieres of her movies including 1998's Sliding Doors, when she was known primarily as an actor.

Paltrow is also known for her roles in Shakespeare in Love — a performance for which she was awarded an Oscar  and the Iron Man movies.

Painful defeat 

The jury's decision marks a painful court defeat for Sanderson, the man who sued Paltrow for more than $300,000 US over injuries he sustained when they crashed on the slope at Deer Valley ski resort.

"He never returned home that night as the same man. Terry has tried to get off that mountain but he's really still there," attorney Robert Sykes said during closing arguments.

Both parties blamed the other for the collision.

Sanderson broke four ribs and sustained a concussion after the two tumbled down the slope, with Paltrow landing on top of him. He filed an amended complaint after an earlier $3.1-million lawsuit was dismissed.

Paltrow in response counter-sued for $1 and attorney fees, a symbolic action that mirrors Taylor Swift's response to a radio host's defamation lawsuit. Swift was awarded $1 in 2017.

Paltrow's defence team represented Sanderson as an angry, aging and unsympathetic man who had over the years become "obsessed" with his lawsuit against Paltrow.

They argued that Paltrow wasn't at fault in the crash and also said, regardless of blame, that Sanderson was overstating the extent of his injuries.

With files from CBC News