Why is Gwyneth Paltrow in court? Actor faces trial showdown over ‘hysterical King Kong’ ski crash

A retired optometrist claims he was skiing with friends when he heard ‘hysterical screaming like … King Kong in the jungle or something’. Gustaf Kilander reports

Wednesday 22 March 2023 09:16 GMT
Founder and CEO of goop, Gwyneth Paltrow speaks onstage during 'The Rise of Goop: Building a Tastemaking Empire'
Founder and CEO of goop, Gwyneth Paltrow speaks onstage during 'The Rise of Goop: Building a Tastemaking Empire' (Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

Actor Gwyneth Paltrow’s day on the slopes in Park City, Utah was cut short seven years ago when she had to take some time to rest after she collided with another person coming down the hill.

She’s now taking part in a civil trial that began on Tuesday (21 March).

As she was climbing the hill on 26 February 2016, another skier slammed into her from behind. She suffered minor injuries, for which she says the man apologized immediately. She adds in her legal filing that she was “shaken and upset”.

According to her, Terry Sanderson, 76, a retired optometrist, said he couldn’t clearly remember what had happened after the “full body hit”. But to Ms Paltrow, the incident is as clear as day.

His version of events is rather different. This is everything we know:

Injuries include ‘permanent traumatic brain injury’ and ‘four broken ribs’

Mr Sanderson, 76, says the movie star and Goop CEO was the one who crashed into him, and with such force that he was left with “permanent traumatic brain injury, four broken ribs, pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress and disfigurement,” according to Law & Crime. Mr Sanderson was 69 at the time of the incident.

The two of them are now heading to trial to decide who’s responsible to pay damages, with proceedings scheduled to start on 21 March.

The ski version of a hit and run

Mr Sanderson is arguing that Ms Paltrow is essentially guilty of the ski version of a hit and run. In his complaint filed in 2019, he alleges that after the collision, she “got up, turned and skied away, leaving Sanderson stunned, lying in the snow, seriously injured”.

“A Deer Valley ski instructor, who had been training Ms. Paltrow, but who did not see the crash, skied over, saw the injured Sanderson and skied off, falsely accusing Sanderson of having caused the crash,” the complaint states.

Ms Paltrow on the other hand, claims that her instructor did in fact witness the collision.

The rule of the hills in Utah is that those ahead of you have the right of way and that those coming from behind have to avoid others. Both Mr Sanderson and Ms Paltrow claim that they were lower down on the mountain.

Deer Valley adheres to the National Ski Areas Association responsibility code, which also says that all skiers must be in control and able to stop as well as avoid other skiers.

Retired optometrist heard ‘hysterical screaming’ before collision

Mr Sanderson alleges that Ms Paltrow was coming down the beginner slope of Bandana Run on Flagstaff mountain in an “out-of-control” manner, according to Court TV.

He claims that she struck him so hard that he was knocked out. At a press conference in 2019, he said that moments before the collision, he “heard this just hysterical screaming like … King Kong in the jungle or something”.

Terry Sanderson during a press conference in 2019 (KUTV)

He said at the time that he thought the speed at which Ms Paltrow was allegedly coming at him could explain the extent of his injuries. “A little bitty bullet can make a big hole,” he said, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

At that press conference announcing the lawsuit, Mr Sanderson said he noticed a number of large “slow down” signs as he headed down Bandana run, so he slowed down but still stayed with the flow of other skiers coming down the slope.

“It was just instantaneous,” he said in 2019. “I got hit in my back. ... It felt like it had just drove me forward.”

He said he could remember not being able to control himself as he went down.

“And then that’s all I remember to that point — just out,” he said.

Dispute over what happened after collision

The man skiing with the film star was Eric Christensen. At first, he and the Deer Valley Resort Company were named in the petition. They were later removed when a judge restricted the argument to be about the collision and to being between Ms Paltrow and Mr Sanderson, with the hit-and-run issue removed from the dispute.

The ruling led to the claim now being one of negligence against Ms Paltrow for allegedly causing the crash while what took place afterwards is out of bounds for the proceedings, KSL reported.

“No one with knowledge of Ms. Paltrow’s post-collision actions claims to have observed Paltrow acting recklessly,” the judge wrote in his order. “Even when interpreted in the light most favorable to [Sanderson], the undisputed facts fail to support his claim that Paltrow’s post-collision actions were likely to result in substantial harm, that they were highly unreasonable or an extreme departure from ordinary care, or that they came with an apparent and high degree of danger.”

While Mr Sanderson claims that Ms Paltrow and Deer Valley staff members skied away after the collision, Ms Paltrow alleges that Mr Sanderson told Mr Christensen that he was alright. Ms Paltrow says in her counterclaim that Mr Christensen alleged in a report that Mr Sanderson was responsible because he had “taken [Paltrow] out from behind”.

Mr Sanderson’s legal filing says that the report is false as the staff member didn’t witness the collision.

Paltrow claims extent of injuries exaggerated

Ms Paltrow says in her filing that Mr Sanderson’s injuries are exaggerated because an examination was conducted with his doctor, which didn’t reveal anything lacking in his cognitive functioning, the claim says.

The movie star’s filing states that medical records show that he was diagnosed with a “mild” concussion and that he has spent “extended periods of time” on vacation abroad following the crash.

A general view during the Dual Moguls Preliminary Rounds on day three of the Intermountain Healthcare Freestyle International Ski World Cup at Deer Valley Resort on February 04, 2023 in Park City, Utah (Getty Images)

The counterclaim also alleges that Mr Sanderson had 15 chronic medical problems and that he had told his physician a year previously that he was blind in his right eye, and that the vision in his left eye was getting worse.

“She did not knock him down or cause him to suffer a concussion, brain injury, or broken ribs,” Ms Paltrow’s filing states.

‘I hope my head is still on straight and my neck is okay’

While speaking to the press in 2019, Mr Sanderson said that he was transported down the slope on a toboggan by ski patrol because when he tried to ski down the rest of the way on his own, an acquaintance thought it appeared as if he no longer knew how to ski.

“I kept thinking, ‘I hope my head is still on straight and my neck is okay,’” Mr Sanderson said at the time, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

“Luckily I had friends that were supportive and called and checked in on me and helped me, and stayed with me in some cases, because I sat in a chair and I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t function. And so I’d get so tired I’d go to bed,” he added.

He said that he was still coming to terms with the effects of the collision and that some close to him had noticed his personality change.

‘I have some pride in the truth’

“You know, I’ve skied for over 30 years. I’ve never knocked anybody down and hurt them. I’ve never been knocked down or gotten hurt,” Mr Sanderson said at the time. “They’re trying to twist the story around. It’s like, I have some pride in the truth, and so I guess maybe that’s why I want to push forward.”

What started out as a lawsuit claiming $3.1m in damages is now a $300,000 claim against Ms Paltrow, who in response is seeking a single dollar in damages and for her legal fees to be covered.

Her counterclaim, filed on 20 February 2019, also states she will give any recovered funds to charity, and she accused Mr Sanderson of attempting to “exploit her celebrity and wealth”.

The civil trial began on 21 March in Park City District Court and is set to go on for eight days, according to The Tribune.

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