‘He said, she said’: Jurors in Gwyneth Paltrow case now deciding who to believe

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

A dispute between Gwyneth Paltrow and a Utah man is now in the hands of an eight-person jury in Park City.

Both parties claim the other ran into them at Deer Valley Resort seven years ago. It will be up to jurors to decide who to believe.

The courtroom was full of spectators and media on Thursday, and thousands of others watched closing arguments live on YouTube — the first time that has been allowed in a Utah courtroom.

Eight jury members are tasked with deciding if Terry Sanderson and Gwyneth Paltrow were hurt in a 2016 ski collision, and if their injuries were the other person’s fault. The jury was instructed by the judge that if they determine a person is responsible for more than 50% of their own injuries, damages will not be awarded.

One witness testified Thursday in the closely watched trial: Richard Boehme, who was called by Sanderson’s attorneys. Prerecorded testimony from Boehme was previously played at the trial, and Thursday he testified live through Zoom and phone that the way Sanderson’s ribs were broken showed he was hit from behind by Paltrow, saying Paltrow’s experts analyzed his report wrong.

Sanderson, a 76-year-old retired optometrist who lives in Utah, filed a lawsuit in 2019 against the Hollywood actor, claiming Paltrow ran into him while skiing at Deer Valley Resort in February 2016. He claims the aftermath of a concussion and four broken ribs that occurred during the crash have caused him ongoing mental and emotional issues and made it harder for him to enjoy life and connect with others. He is currently seeking $300,000. An initial $3.1 million complaint was dismissed.

Paltrow filed a countersuit for a symbolic $1 plus attorney fees, claiming Sanderson was actually the one who hit her from behind. She testified last week that his skis came up between hers, and she was worried for a second that she was being assaulted before they fell to the ground together.

“Mr. Sanderson hit me,” she said. “Mr. Sanderson categorically hit me on that ski slope, and that is the truth.”

Final words from Sanderson’s attorneys

Attorney Robert Sykes said Sanderson, his client, did not really make it off the mountain after the skiing incident in February 2016. He said the 76-year-old man has spent hours and hours trying to make himself better.

“Terry is trying to get off that mountain, but he’s really still there. Part of Terry will forever be on the Bandana run, figuratively,” Sykes said.

Sykes began his closing arguments by saying he believes Paltrow is sincere, but that doesn’t mean her testimony is correct.

“I think she sincerely believes that she got hit in the back. The problem is you have to make a decision based on the evidence that you’ve heard here,” Sykes said.

He pointed out things in the story presented by Paltrow’s attorneys that don’t make sense to him. He said Sanderson, an advanced skier, would not be making wide-radius turns on a beginner run. He said multiple people heard Paltrow scream and the downhill skier would not scream at something they can’t see. He said having both of Sanderson’s skis between Paltrow’s legs is “unbelievable.” Lastly, Sykes said it does not make sense that two Deer Valley employees would have heard someone with four broken ribs was doing fine and gone down the hill without making a report.

He said Craig Ramon, their eyewitness who says he saw the crash from about 40 feet behind, is an acquaintance of Sanderson and doesn’t have a “dog in the fight.”

“He has no reason, no motive to falsify this,” Sykes said.

The attorney said the main piece of evidence in the case is a significant change in personality Sanderson faced after the crash and his loss of executive function, the ability to be organized.

Lawrence Buhler, another Sanderson attorney, said his client spends 16 hours each day dealing with his injury and he should be entitled to a significant amount of money. The attorney said compensating him $33 for each hour he is awake for the rest of his life would add up to over $3 million, but suggested the jury members pick whatever number they feel would be right for each hour and do their own calculations.

Buhler said the case is not about celebrity — it’s about a man’s life. A man who was previously healthy enough to ski and now he is unable to do that and many other activities.

“Terry doesn’t want to be brain injured; he wants to live life to its fullest,” he said.

Final comments from Paltrow’s attorneys

Paltrow’s attorney, Stephen Owens, said his client has been a “punching bag” through most of the trial. He said the easiest thing for her would have been to give away the money, but that would have been wrong and would have sent a message to her children that she did not want to send.

Owens said it took courage for Paltrow to come to the trial, a place where she is not comfortable, “and be pounded like a punching bag.”

“He hit her. He hurt her. And then he asked her for $3 million for the pleasure. That is not fair,” Owens said.

Owens said it was not fair for Sanderson to call a press conference and say Paltrow came up screaming “like King Kong,” knocked him out, and then skied away — noting that the court has already determined the incident was not a “hit-and-run” incident.

He said Paltrow’s loss from Sanderson hitting her is not just a missed half-day of skiing, but a disruption to an important trip. Owens said the day was part of a carefully planned trip where Paltrow and her boyfriend hoped to see if their families — each with two kids of their own — would blend together. He said it is not about the $1 they asked for, but about an interruption to a delicate time in their relationship.

Owens said if the jury determines that there was GoPro video of the collision — based on an email from Sanderson’s daughter shortly after the incident that said “and to think it was all caught on GoPro” — that they should assume the video would have had a negative impact on Sanderson’s case.

He showed computer animations of the crash and talked through what they believe happened to tell Paltrow’s side of the story one final time.

Attorney fees

Before the jury was brought in on Thursday, Sanderson’s attorneys asked the judge for a directed verdict regarding the attorney fees in the case. Attorney Kristin VanOrman argued that for attorney fees to be awarded in Utah, a lawsuit has to be filed “in bad faith” and be “without merit.” She argued that since multiple witnesses said Paltrow must have hit Sanderson, including a witness who testified that he saw the collision, the case has merit.

She also said Sanderson is not acting in bad faith and is not attempting to take advantage of Paltrow. VanOrman said in this case there is an honest belief the lawsuit is appropriate and there have been no attempts of fraud.

“The reason for awarding attorneys fees based on bad faith is to punish the wrongdoer, not to compensate the victim,” VanOrman said. “There is clearly an evidence-based support for (Sanderson’s) claims in this case.”

She called it a “he said, she said” case, not one filed with poor intent.

Paltrow’s attorney, Owens, said they have not been allowed to address the issue of bad faith and attorney fees throughout the trial, and said they would need time to respond to the motion.

“I can’t be handcuffed and then slapped. I need to be able to defend the claim,” Owens said.

Third District Judge Kent Holmberg said he was taking that motion under advisement, and said he would address the issue after a verdict is reached if the jury determines Sanderson is at fault.

Paltrow’s defense team picked mostly experts to mount their final defense on Wednesday. They chose to call four medical experts to testify rather than Paltrow’s husband, television producer Brad Falchuk.

In the final hour, they called Sanderson back to the witness stand. A day earlier, they read depositions from Paltrow’s two children — Apple and Moses — rather than calling them to testify as they earlier indicated they had planned. The attorneys said this change was a result of Sanderson’s attorneys taking more than their share of time calling witnesses, but the judge calculated time spent by each side questioning witnesses and gave each equal time with the jury.

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 Paltrow ran into him and sent him “absolutely flying.”

The trial has also shone a spotlight on Park City, known to many 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.

Contributing: Associated Press

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