A jury began deliberating Thursday afternoon in Gwyneth Paltrow’s trial over a 2016 ski collision at a Utah resort.
Attorneys for Gwyneth Paltrow and the 76-year-old man suing her described their clients in closing arguments as aggrieved victims participating in a years-long legal battle to take a stand for truth. The eight-person jury is tasked with weighing dueling versions of who was the downhill skier, making the other side culpable according to a skier responsibility code.
During closing arguments, Paltrow’s attorneys asked jurors to disregard the opposing side’s emotional pleas for sympathy of Terry Sanderson over the state of his relationships. The retired optometrist has said the collision left him with a concussion and four broken ribs. Paltrow’s legal team said that for their client, it would’ve been easier to simply write a check, settle the lawsuit and put the crash behind her.
“But what would that teach her children?” attorney Steve Owens asked jurors Thursday.
Accompanying his remarks were high-resolution animations depicting Paltrow’s version of events, which have been shown throughout the trial in the Park City courtroom.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about ruining a very delicate time in a relationship where they were trying to get their kids together,” Owens said.
The 2016 family trip to Deer Valley Resort was the first time Paltrow and her then-boyfriend Brad Falchuk brought their kids together in an effort to join families.
During the second week of trial, Paltrow, Sanderson and members of the jury all nodded along as attorneys repeated familiar narratives, denounced some witnesses’ claims and elevated others.
Sanderson is suing Paltrow over the events of that trip, claiming she skied out of control and crashed into him, leaving him with four broken ribs and a concussion with symptoms that have lasted years beyond the collision.
After a judge dismissed his initial $3.1 million complaint, Sanderson amended and refiled the lawsuit seeking “more than $300,000” — a threshold that that provides the opportunity to introduce the most evidence and depose the most witnesses allowed in civil court. In closing arguments, his attorneys estimated damages as more than $3.2 million.
Paltrow has countersued for a symbolic $1 and attorney fees, though her attorneys said in closing arguments that the crash had caused her far more damage.
Sanderson’s attorneys have cast doubt on Paltrow’s testimony and underscored the injuries that their client, Sanderson, has said changed the course of his life.
“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 in his closing argument. “Part of Terry will forever be on that Bandana run.”
In a courtroom more packed Thursday than any other day of the trial, Sanderson’s attorneys delivered their arguments first. They argued it was unlikely that someone could ski between another skier’s two legs as Paltrow said. They also noted that she didn’t deny watching her kids skiing the moment of the crash.
Paltrow’s attorneys took a two-pronged approach, both arguing that the actor-turned-lifestyle influencer didn’t cause the accident and that its effects aren’t as bad as Sanderson claims. They’ve painted him as an “obsessed” man pushing “utter B.S.” claims against someone whose fame makes them vulnerable to unfair, frivolous lawsuits.
In their closing arguments, Sanderson’s team also noted how the man claiming to be the sole eyewitness testified to seeing Paltrow hit their client. Though they’ve tapped into themes including the power of fame throughout the trial, they said that the case ultimately wasn’t about celebrity, but simply damages.
Sanderson testified that he had continued to pursue damages seven years after the accident because the cascading events that followed — his post-concussion symptoms and the accusation that he sued to exploit Paltrow’s celebrity — added insult to injury.
“That’s the purpose: to make me regret this lawsuit. It’s the pain of trying to sue a celebrity,” he said on Wednesday in response to a question from his attorney about Paltrow’s team probing his personal life, medical records and extensive post-crash international travel itinerary.
Though both sides have marshaled significant resources to emerge victorious, the verdict could end up being remembered as an afterthought dwarfed by the worldwide attention the trial has attracted. The amount of money at stake pales in comparison to the typical legal costs of a multiyear lawsuit, private security detail and expert witness-heavy trial.
Among the most bombshell testimony has been from Paltrow and Sanderson. On Friday members of the jury were riveted when Paltrow said on the stand that she initially thought she was being “violated” when the collision began. Three days later Sanderson gave an entirely different account, saying she ran into him and sent him “absolutely flying.”
The trial has also shone a spotlight on Park City, known primarily as a ski resort that welcomes celebrities like Paltrow for each year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Local residents have increasingly filled the courtroom gallery throughout the trial. They’ve nodded along as lawyers and witnesses have referenced local landmarks like Montage Deer Valley, the ski-side hotel-spa where Paltrow got a massage after the collision. At times they have appeared captivated by Paltrow’s reactions to the proceedings, while at others they have mirrored the jury, whose endurance has been tested by hours of jargon-dense medical testimony.
—Sam Metz, The Associated Press