‘He said, she said’: The jury in the Gwyneth Paltrow case is now deciding who to believe

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 met them at Deer Valley Resort seven years ago. It will be up to the jury to decide who to believe.

The courtroom was packed with spectators and media Thursday, and thousands of others watched the closing arguments live on YouTube — the first time it has been admitted in a Utah courtroom.

Eight jury members are tasked with deciding whether Terry Sanderson and Gwyneth Paltrow were injured in a skiing accident in 2016 and whether their injuries were the other person’s fault. The jury was instructed by the judge that if they find that a person is responsible for more than 50% of their own injuries, no damages will be awarded.

One witness testified Thursday at the closely watched trial: Richard Boehme, who was subpoenaed by Sanderson’s attorneys. Pre-recorded testimonies from Boehme were played earlier at the trial, and on Thursday he testified live via Zoom and phone that the way Sanderson’s ribs were broken showed he was hit from behind by Paltrow and said Paltrow’s Experts would have analyzed his report incorrectly.

Sanderson, a 76-year-old retired optometrist who lives in Utah, filed a lawsuit against the Hollywood actor in 2019, alleging that Paltrow encountered him while skiing at Deer Valley Resort in February 2016. Ribs that appeared during the crash, have caused him ongoing mental and emotional problems 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’s fees, claiming that Sanderson was actually the one who hit her from behind. She testified last week that his skis popped up between hers and she worried for a second that she was being attacked before they fell to the ground together.

“Mr. Sanderson hit me,” she said. “Mr. Sanderson beat me outright on that ski slope and that’s the truth.”

Final words from Sanderson’s attorneys

Attorney Robert Sykes said Sanderson, his client, didn’t actually make it off the mountain after the February 2016 skiing incident. He said the 76-year-old man spent hours and hours trying to get better.

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

Sykes began his closing arguments by believing Paltrow is sincere, but that doesn’t mean her statement is correct.

“I think she sincerely believes she was hit in the back. The problem is you have to make a decision based on the evidence 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 intermediate skier, wouldn’t take wide turns on a beginner’s run. He said several people heard Paltrow scream and the skier wouldn’t scream if he couldn’t see something. He said it was “amazing” to have both of Sanderson’s skis between Paltrow’s legs. Finally, Sykes said it made no sense that two Deer Valley employees heard that someone with four broken ribs was doing well and walked down the hill without reporting.

He said Craig Ramon, her eyewitness, who says he saw the crash from about 40 feet, was an acquaintance of Sanderson’s and didn’t have a “dog in the fight.”

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

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

Lawrence Buhler, another attorney for Sanderson, said his client spends 16 hours every day dealing with his injury and he should be entitled to a substantial sum of money. The attorney said compensation of $33 for every hour he’s awake for the rest of his life would add up to over $3 million, but suggested jury members pick whichever number they think is right for each hour , and perform their own calculations.

Bühler said the case isn’t about fame — it’s about a man’s life. A man who used to be healthy enough to ski and now he can’t do that and many other activities.

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

Closing comments from Paltrow’s attorneys

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

Owens said Paltrow needed courage to come to the trial, a place she wasn’t comfortable with, “and get hit like a punching bag.”

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

Owens said it wasn’t fair for Sanderson to call a news conference and say Paltrow showed up screaming “like King Kong,” knocked him unconscious, and then drove away — noting that the court had already determined that the incident wasn’t a crime “Hit” was -run” incident.

He said Paltrow’s loss to the Sanderson punch was not just a missed half day of skiing, but an interruption in an important journey. Owens said the day was part of a carefully planned trip in which Paltrow and her boyfriend hoped to see if their families — each with two children of their own — would be a match. He said it wasn’t about the $1 they asked for, but an interruption of a delicate time in their relationship.

Owens said if the jury finds there was GoPro video of the collision — based on an email from Sanderson’s daughter shortly after the incident, which read, “And to believe it was all GoPro recorded,” they should they assume that the video had a negative impact on Sanderson’s case.

He showed computer animations of the crash and talked about what they think happened to tell Paltrow’s side of the story one last time.

legal fees

Before the jury called Thursday, Sanderson’s attorneys asked the judge for a final judgment on attorneys’ fees in the case. Attorney Kristin VanOrman argued that an award of attorneys’ fees in Utah must be “in bad faith” and “unfounded.” She argued that since multiple witnesses said Paltrow must have met Sanderson, including a witness who said he saw the collision, the case was valid.

She also said Sanderson was not acting in bad faith and was not trying to take advantage of Paltrow. VanOrman said there was an honest belief in this case that the lawsuit was fair and that there had been no attempt at fraud.

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

She called it a “he said she said” case, not one brought with ill intention.

Paltrow’s attorney, Owens, said they were not allowed to raise 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 beaten. I need to be able to defend the claim,” Owens said.

Third Circuit Judge Kent Holmberg said he was accepting that motion under deliberation and said he would address the issue after a ruling was reached if the jury finds Sanderson at fault.

Paltrow’s defense team picked mostly experts Wednesday to build their final defense. They chose to have four medical experts testify instead of Paltrow’s husband, television producer Brad Falchuk.

In the last hour, they called Sanderson back to the stand. A day earlier, they read statements from Paltrow’s two children — Apple and Moses — rather than calling them to testify, as they previously indicated they planned to do. Attorneys said the change was because Sanderson’s attorneys were spending more than their share of time interviewing witnesses, but the judge calculated the time each side spent interviewing witnesses and gave each the same amount of time the jury.

Among the most bombastic statements were Paltrow and Sanderson. On Friday, the jury members were tied Paltrow said at the booth that she initially thought she was being “hurt” when the collision began. Three days later, Sanderson gave a completely different account, saying Paltrow encountered him and “absolutely let him fly.”

The trial has also thrown a spotlight on Park City, best known to many as a ski resort that welcomes celebrities like Paltrow to the Sundance Film Festival each year.

Local residents increasingly filled the courtroom gallery during the trial. They nodded as attorneys and witnesses pointed to local landmarks like Montage Deer Valley, the ski hotel spa where Paltrow got a massage after the collision. At times they seemed captivated by Paltrow’s reactions to the proceedings, while at other times they reflected the jury, whose endurance was being tested by hours of medical testimony.

Contribution: Associated Press

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