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Gwyneth Paltrow wins her ski crash case — and $1 in damages

Gwyneth Paltrow and her attorney Steve Owens smile after the reading of the verdict in her lawsuit trial on Thursday in Park City, Utah.
Rick Bowmer
Gwyneth Paltrow and her attorney Steve Owens smile after the reading of the verdict in her lawsuit trial on Thursday in Park City, Utah.

Who skied into whom?

After only a little more than two hours of deliberation, a Utah jury unanimously decided that it was Gwyneth Paltrow who got slammed into by retired optometrist Terry Sanderson on the slopes of the Deer Valley Resort more than seven years ago — and not the other way around.

The verdict is a blow for Sanderson, who filed the lawsuit against Paltrow seeking $300,000 in damages for the injuries he sustained after she allegedly plowed into him. It is a vindication for the Oscar-winning actress, who countersued Sanderson for $1 and legal fees, saying he was to blame for the 2016 ski collision.

Sanderson, 76, hung his head as Judge Kent Holmberg read the jury's decision on Thursday afternoon. Meanwhile, the 50-year-old actress remained fairly expressionless, offering only a curt nod and a small smile to her lawyers and the jury.

"I felt that acquiescing to a false claim compromised my integrity," Paltrow said in a statement through her attorneys.

"I am pleased with the outcome and I appreciate all of the hard work of Judge Holmberg and the jury, and thank them for their thoughtfulness in handling this case," Paltrow added.

Over the course of the trial, jurors heard from science and medical experts, eye witnesses — including written testimony from Paltrow's children — and the famous actress herself.

Each legal team offered dueling versions of what happened on the mountain that day.

Sanderson's attorneys argued that Paltrow was skiing recklessly down the mountain when she careened into him with a velocity that sent him "flying" in the air. As a result, he said, he suffered four broken ribs and lifelong brain damage.

"All I saw was a whole lot of snow. And I didn't see the sky, but I was flying," he testified last week.

During closing arguments, his lawyer, Robert Sykes, rejected claims that Sanderson is seeking fame and attention.

"Part of Terry will forever be on the Bandara run," Sykes told the jury. "Bring Terry home."

Lawrence Buhler, another of his attorneys, told jurors to consider awarding his client $3.2 million in damages.

"When people get to know him, after a while, they don't want to deal with him anymore," Buhler said, adding that he's known Sanderson for six years.

Buhler suggested Sanderson's personality has changed dramatically during that period and that it has caused people to push him away. "You lose everybody — your family, they'll put up with you, and maybe the lawyers. But, really, they're just putting up with you," Buhler added.

Meanwhile, Paltrow's legal team maintained that she was the victim both in the incident at the ski resort and in the subsequent legal battle that has dragged on for years.

Paltrow testified that she'd been skiing with her children when Sanderson struck her from behind. In the confusion and shock of the blow, she told jurors, she thought someone was trying to sexually assault her.

She described his skis as coming between her own, forcing her legs apart and that she heard a "grunting noise" before they landed on the ground together.

Her attorney, Stephen Owens, also spent time grilling Sanderson about the severity of his injuries, questioning him about various trips and activities the retiree posted to social media after the so-called hit and run.

During closing arguments he told jurors that Paltrow had decided to take a stand in fighting Sanderson's case. Owens said it would have been "easy" for Paltrow "to write a check and be done with it," but that would have been wrong.

He added: "It's actually wrong that he hurt her, and he wants money from her."

Now, it's clear she won't have to pay it.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.