PARK CITY, Utah (AP) - Gwyneth Paltrow's lawyer called the story of a retired optometrist who is suing her over a 2016 ski collision “utter B.S.” on Tuesday during the trial's opening day in Utah, where the actor-turned-lifestyle influencer appeared in court looking somber.
Paltrow and Terry Sanderson, the man suing her, sat across from each other in a Park City courtroom as their attorneys gave opening arguments that provided strikingly different accounts of the crash. Both described their clients as victims and blamed the other for the collision at Deer Valley, one of the country's most upscale ski resorts.
The two showed little emotion as attorneys questioned their credibility and version of events on the first day of the trial, which is set to last eight days. Sanderson's attorneys said that they plan to call Paltrow to the stand to testify on Friday, but they could do so earlier in the week depending on the other witnesses' availability.
Paltrow - wearing a cream-colored knit sweater, tweed harem pants and aviator-style reading glasses - shielded her face from photographers using a blue “GP”-initialed notebook as she entered and exited the courtroom. Sanderson wore a gray suit and left halfway before witnesses began testifying.
Sanderson claims that Paltrow was cruising down the slopes so recklessly that they violently collided, leaving him on the ground as she and her entourage continued their descent down the skiers-only mountain known for its groomed runs, apres-ski champagne yurts and posh clientele.
“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,” Sanderson's attorney, Lawrence Buhler, told jurors, who - unlike those selected for most trials - walked into the courtroom smiling, likely because of their proximity to a major celebrity.
Buhler highlighted his client's military service record and tried to appeal to the jury's sympathies - describing the broken ribs and brain trauma Sanderson sustained during and after the crash. Attempting to draw a contrast, Buhler described Paltrow as a wealthy, experienced skier who adopted a “So what?” attitude about the collision.
“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.
Park City is a resort town in the Rocky Mountains that hosts the Sundance Film Festival, which draws a throng of celebrities each year.
Paltrow and Sanderson both agree that they collided while on a beginner's run seven years ago, yet both accuse the other of being at fault and skiing up behind them.
Sanderson is suing Paltrow for $300,000 - claiming that the accident in Park City was a result of negligence, and left him with physical injuries and emotional distress. After the collision, Sanderson's attorneys said their client went to urgent care and to the emergency room.
On ski slopes, Utah law gives the skier who is downhill the right of way, so a central question in the case is who was farther down when the collision transpired. Both Paltrow and Sanderson claim that they were farther downhill when the other rammed into them.
Both sides are presenting their clients as conservative skiers who were stunned when a skier above them crashed into them.
Paltrow's attorneys told jurors Tuesday that Sanderson was the one who crashed into her - a collision in which she sustained what in court filings they called a “full body blow.” Attorney Steve Owens noted that members of Paltrow's group checked on Sanderson, who assured them he was fine - an interaction Sanderson doesn't deny but said in court filings that he can't remember.
Paltrow's attorney cautioned jurors not to let sympathy for Sanderson's medical ailments skew their judgements. He questioned the 76-year-old's credibility, noting his age and documented, pre-collision brain injuries. He said that the Utah man had confirmed he was fine after the crash. Owens also said that Sanderson posted a “very happy, smiling picture” of himself online, being tobogganed down post-crash.
“His memories of the case get better over the years. That's all I'm gonna say. That's not how memory works,” Owens said.
Two witnesses testified on Tuesday - Craig Ramon, a friend and ski companion of Sanderson's, and Karlene Davidson, a woman who was dating him in February 2016 during the crash.
Ramon said he was skiing roughly 35 feet (11 meters) away at the time of the crash, testified on Tuesday afternoon. An outdoorsman who skis more than 150 days annually, Ramon said he heard a loud scream and saw Sanderson's ski tips fly up, causing him to fall face-down “spread-eagle” upon the collision. He testified that Paltrow hit Sanderson, bouncing off his back and sliding to his right.
Paltrow's ski instructor, a Deer Valley employee, approached moments later and said, “Your buddy just took out Gwyneth Paltrow,” Ramon testified.
Paltrow's attorney's attempted to paint Ramon as a close friend of Sanderson by showing pictures of him calmly smiling with other friends after the crash and brought up - but did not probe into - an email chain with Sanderson's family that suggested the collision was captured with a GoPro camera. The footage has not been seen or included as part of trial's evidence.
Davidson, Sanderson's ex-girlfriend, said that in addition to his injuries, she noticed his demeanor changed after the crash. He grew more distant and she said “had no joy left in his life,” which lead to the demise of their relationship. Sanderson's attorneys attributed the changes to the crash. Paltrow's attorneys noted that the man had started dating another woman quickly after their break-up.
After his initial lawsuit seeking $3.1 million was dismissed, Sanderson amended the complaint and he is now seeking $300,000. Paltrow - the Oscar-winning actor known for her roles in “Shakespeare in Love” and Marvel's “Iron Man” movies - filed a counterclaim, seeking attorney fees and $1 in damages.
Paltrow has alleged that Sanderson is overstating his injuries and trying to exploit her celebrity and wealth. In addition to her acting career, she is also the founder and CEO of high-end wellness company Goop.
“He demanded Ms. Paltrow pay him millions. If she did not pay, she would face negative publicity resulting from his allegations,” her attorneys wrote in a 2019 court filing.
The trial is expected to last eight days, include testimony from numerous medical professionals and Paltrow's children, Moses and Apple.