A sunny morning on the slopes of the exclusive Deer Valley ski resort, and perfect conditions to enjoy Utah’s famous powder snow.
Yet as Terry Sanderson and his friends cruised down the beginner’s run ‘Bandana’ on that February day in 2016, the tranquillity of one of America’s smartest destinations was rudely shattered by a ‘hysterical scream’ that sounded like ‘King Kong came out of the jungle’.
It was, he claims, Gwyneth Paltrow descending the same green run on skis and proving almost as devastating as Kong as she lost control and ploughed into 69-year-old Mr Sanderson, hitting him so hard from behind it left him with broken ribs and permanent brain damage – claims she denies.
After seven years of furious legal claim and counter-claim, during which dozens of motions have been filed, the events of that day are being replayed in a court in Park City, Utah, where the Oscar-winner and star of Iron Man and Shakespeare In Love stands trial in a case that started yesterday.
She faces a $300,000 (£245,000) negligence lawsuit brought by Mr Sanderson, now 76. Both sides have accused the other of being at fault in the collision and both were in court yesterday for a trial expected to last eight days.
Gwyneth Paltrow on day one of her eight-day trial in which she faces a £245,000 negligence lawsuit
Terry Sanderson (pictured) claims Ms Paltrow crashed into him so far from behind it left him with broken ribs and permanent brain damage – which she denies
Ms Paltrow, looking solemn, shielded her face as she entered and left the courtroom and appeared to clutch her jumper nervously as she listened to the evidence. Her lawyer told the court that not only Ms Paltrow but her husband, Brad Falchuk, and children, Apple, 18, and Moses, 16, are set to testify in a case that, if it goes against her, could severely tarnish her public image.
A judge ruled last year that Mr Sanderson, a retired optometrist who initially demanded $3.1million in damages, couldn’t justify calling it a ‘hit-and-run’ ski crash.
However, he was allowed to pursue his claim that Ms Paltrow negligently crashed into him, hitting him – he claimed – ‘harder than I’ve ever been hit’. His lawsuit seeks compensation for ‘permanent traumatic brain injury, four broken ribs, pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress and disfigurement’. He has also accused 50-year-old Ms Paltrow of having ‘accepted no responsibility’ for her role in the incident.
His lawyer Lawrence Buhler told the court yesterday that the actress ‘bolted’ down the mountain after the collision.
He also claimed that Ms Paltrow hadn’t been paying attention at the time as she was watching her children ski. Mr Buhler said one of her children had called to her: ‘Mummy, mummy, watch us ski!’
He said: ‘The children and their two instructors ski to the left. Ms Paltrow skis down to the right, she turns her head up to look at her children. As she turns her head back down she screams and skis into the back of Terry Sanderson.’
The lawyer added: ‘Distracted skiers cause crashes. Defendant Gwyneth Paltrow …knew that if she continued to ski that way, if she kept looking up to the side, someone would get seriously hurt. She knew what she was doing was dangerous and she knew it was reckless.’
He also claimed that Ms Paltrow, whose family group included four instructors, spent ‘thousands of dollars a day’ on tuition for her children, which allowed the family to skip lift queues.
‘Ms Paltrow has been skiing since she was three years old, she considers herself an intermediate skier. She has skied about a half a dozen times at Deer Valley ski resort,’ he told the court.
Ms Paltrow has filed a countersuit claiming Mr Sanderson, who has vision and hearing loss as a result of a previous stroke, was the one who caused the collision, hitting her from behind and causing her to sustain a ‘full body blow’.
Paltrow in a social media post the year before the accident at Deer Valley resort in Utah. She captioned the post: ’20 years later and I still got it #justlikeridingabike’
Her lawyer, Stephen Owens, said yesterday that Mr Sanderson had been making wide turns across the slope and had his back turned when he hit her, his skis appearing between her legs before the pair crashed to the ground.
Once Mr Sanderson realised who it was he had hit, he flagged down the Ski Patrol, claiming he was injured and needed help getting down the mountain, the court heard.
A furious Ms Paltrow shouted ‘What the f***!’ at Mr Sanderson as she lay sprawled in the snow and son Moses later said he’d never seen his mother so upset, said Mr Owens.
He said Ms Paltrow had skied down the mountain to meet her husband after being told she could leave by ski instructor Eric Christiansen and the Ski Patrol.
Mr Owens showed the jury an email reportedly sent by Mr Sanderson to his daughters after the collision that included a link to a Facebook status that said ‘I’m famous!’ He told the court: ‘Gwyneth was hurt by his [Sanderson] negligence. She’s hurt, she’s sore, it rattled her.’
According to Ms Paltrow, members of her group checked on Mr Sanderson who assured them he was fine. She has said she was so upset by the collision she stopped skiing for the day.
Mr Sanderson says he didn’t sue Ms Paltrow for nearly three years after the crash because of legal issues and prolonged concussion from the collision. He reportedly remembered next to nothing of the crash and his account has largely been based on that of a friend in his ski group, Craig Ramon.
Ms Paltrow is seeking only $1 in ‘symbolic damages’ but also payment of her lawyers’ fees. The actress, worth an estimated $200million, has dismissed his lawsuit as an attempt to ‘exploit her celebrity and wealth’.
Legal experts say the case will essentially boil down to whose version of events the jury chooses to believe.
Paltrow has claimed that it was Sanderson who ran into her. Her lawyer claimed Sanderson had been cutting across the mountain making a wide turn and had had his back turned when he hit her
Mr Sanderson’s claims that Ms Paltrow behaved like a typical snooty A-lister – having her minions sort out the mess she caused before swanning off down the slope – may strike a chord with jurors in Park City, a resort town that is the home of the Sundance Film Festival and is mobbed annually by visiting Hollywood stars.
The general rule at ski resorts is that the skier who is further downhill has the right of way, but both Ms Paltrow and Mr Sanderson claim that they were below the other. Skiers are also expected be in control and able to stop as well as avoid other skiers.
The court has yet to hear about Ms Paltrow’s skiing ability but Mr Sanderson says he had decades of experience – during which he’d neither been knocked down nor knocked anyone else down.
He had been at the rear of his group of six skiers coming down the run. Having seen large signs as ‘big as two refrigerators’ telling skiers to slow down he had decreased his speed accordingly and was ‘just enjoying the day’.
He went on: ‘Then, I heard this hysterical scream like you never hear on a ski run. Never have I heard it in my life. Just absolutely like King Kong came out of the jungle or something.’
It was the scream, he believed, of a skier who hadn’t been paying attention and suddenly realised a collision was unavoidable.
He said that, in an instant, he felt something hit him in his back around his shoulder-blades. According to his lawyers, that ‘something’ was Ms Paltrow who had been coming down at ‘a very good rate of speed’.
Mr Sanderson, who’d been wearing a helmet, said he fell face first into the snow with Paltrow landing on his back.
The court has yet to hear about Ms Paltrow’s skiing ability but Mr Sanderson (pictured) says he had decades of experience – during which he’d neither been knocked down nor knocked anyone else down.
Although she quickly rolled off him, Mr Sanderson said he was knocked unconscious for five to ten minutes. ‘I remember feeling sore, my ribs were really sore,’ he said. ‘And my brain felt like it had been injected with Novocaine. It was just numb.’
He had no idea where he was, he said. ‘And that’s when the ski [instructor] that was there, that I really thought was there to help, he left.’
His friend Craig Ramon filled in the gaps left by Mr Sanderson’s blackout.
As Mr Sanderson lay in the snow, Ms Paltrow’s ski instructor Eric Christiansen arrived and ‘started yelling at Sanderson’. Ms Paltrow, meanwhile, didn’t respond to questions about whether she was OK as she struggled to her feet and skied away, followed by the rest of her group, said Mr Ramon.
Her instructor stayed long enough to help Mr Sanderson up before leaving him to catch up with his client, said Mr Ramon.
Mr Sanderson’s lawyers say he was left with a ‘closed brain injury’, a condition that has been compared to shaken baby syndrome. But Ms Paltrow’s team counter that he was diagnosed with only a ‘mild’ concussion.
The case continues.