Gwyneth Paltrow ski collision trial brings doctors to stand
Two doctors on Wednesday (Mar 22) described X-rays, brain scans and neurological tests documenting the medical condition of a man suing Gwyneth Paltrow for a 2016 ski collision at an upscale Utah ski resort.
“After his accident, he deteriorated abruptly,” Dr. Wendell Gibby said of 76-year-old Terry Sanderson, the man suing Paltrow, in court in Park City.
Sanderson's attorneys called on medical experts to try to persuade jurors that the collision left their client with irreparable, life-altering injuries. Sanderson, who is a retired optometrist, has been described in court filings and the initial days of the trial as a man who frequently skis at high-end resorts and travels internationally. Still, his attorneys have worked to frame the celebrity lawsuit as a David-versus-Goliath struggle, with their older but active client injured by the actor-turned-wellness-tycoon's negligence.
Gibby, a radiologist, said brain images suggested Sanderson's head trauma was likely caused by a skier crashing into him, supporting Sanderson's claims that he was hit by Paltrow. He said lasting effects on Sanderson's overall health were consistent with the severity of the collision. “The rib fractures certainly corroborate that there was enough force to cause a head injury," Gibby added.
Dr Samuel Goldstein, a neuropsychologist, called Sanderson's post-crash trajectory an “acute rapid downturn” – and urged jurors to use their common sense rather than get bogged down in questions about white matter beneath the cortex of the brain.
“Were it not for that particular accident, the life he was living in the six months to a year before that ... he would continue to be living," Goldstein said of Sanderson.
Sanderson claims Paltrow's recklessness left him with physical injuries and brain damage. After a judge threw out his earlier US$3.1 million lawsuit and ruled that he wasn't entitled to punitive damages, Sanderson amended his claims and now alleges damages of “more than US$300,000".
Paltrow will likely testify on Friday, and her children Moses and Apple are also expected to take the stand sometime during the trial, her attorney said.
The amount of money sought pales in comparison to the typical legal costs of a multiyear lawsuit and expert witness-heavy trial. More than a dozen are expected to testify throughout the eight-day trial in Park City – a posh ski town known for welcoming celebrities each year for the Sundance Film Festival.
In a counterclaim to Sanderson's amended lawsuit, Paltrow is seeking US$1 and attorney fees – a familiar, symbolic action that highlights how reputation, not money, is often what's at stake for celebrities at trial like Paltrow. Taylor Swift similarly countersued a radio host for the same, symbolic amount in 2017.
Though the court is not publishing a witness list for the celebrity trial, attorneys said that Sanderson’s daughters would likely be called to the stand next to testify. Attorneys are expected to question them about their father's health, as well as emails exchanged post-crash that mention GoPro camera footage and Paltrow's fame.
Both parties blame the other for the collision and claim they were crashed into from behind, relying on a little-known Utah law stipulating that whoever is downhill has the right of way when skiing or snowboarding.
Paltrow’s attorneys have pled with Judge Kent Holmberg to grant special restrictions throughout the trial, including limiting photography both in the courtroom and in the public parking lot outside – where a rope cordons off Paltrow's entrance and exit paths.
Sanderson left the courtroom Wednesday before experts testified on his health and mental acuity, but on the opening day of the trial, he sat across the courtroom from Paltrow. Both appeared unfazed while hearing arguments that have become familiar over the seven years since they crashed. Paltrow, the founder and CEO of the wellness company Goop, arrived in court on Wednesday drinking a green juice.
The trial is expected to hinge on how the 10 jurors – six women and four men – interpret evidence from medical experts, and whether they see Sanderson's injuries as directly related to the accident or normal parts of aging. The jurors are all residents of wealthy Summit County, where the median home last month sold for US$1.3 million, according to Redfin.
On Wednesday, jurors stretched and yawned through hours of testimony that was dense with medical jargon. After Sanderson's attorneys called experts to the stand to describe Sanderson's health, Paltrow's attorneys delved into the complexities of different kinds of MRIs and neurological tests, casting doubt on the experts' conclusions.
In a trial expected to feature a long list of medical experts, Paltrow's attorneys have cautioned the jury not to be biased by feeling sympathy for Sanderson. They opened the trial by calling his story “utter BS” – building off earlier claims from court filings and previous depositions where they accused him of suing to exploit the wealth and celebrity of the Oscar-winning star of Shakespeare In Love.