The eight-member jury in the Utah ski crash trial involving the actor and wellness entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow and the retired optometrist Terry Sanderson has gone into deliberations, following closing arguments from the prosecution and defense.
Sanderson, 76, claims the 50-year old Paltrow broke his ribs and inflicted concussion in the ski collision in 2016. Paltrow counters that the crash was not her fault.
After a judge dismissed Sanderson’s initial $3.1m complaint, Sanderson amended and refiled the lawsuit seeking “more than $300,000”, a threshold that provides the opportunity to introduce the most evidence and depose the most witnesses allowed in civil court. Paltrow counter-sued for a symbolic $1 and attorney fees.
“One of the most significant pieces of evidence here is a sudden and precipitous change in Terry Sanderson,” one of his attorneys told the courtroom in his closing argument, as he laid out the ways in which Sanderson had experienced a loss in joie de vivre since the accident.
“Terry has a problem. It’s an invisible injury. You see someone with a brain injury and they look fine. What’s wrong with him?” his attorney said. “The four broken ribs, those are painful for maybe three months or so. But the brain injury has persisted to this day and will last until he dies.”
He added: “It’s permanent. Your personality changes permanently and you lose everybody who knows you. This case is not about celebrity … it’s about a man’s life.”
In response, Paltrow’s attorneys resisted Sanderson’s argument, claiming that Paltrow is the ultimate victim. “This was a hit-and-run that took no small amount of work … [Gwyneth’s family] lost half a day of bonding and even more because now everyone’s stressed,” her attorney said.
Paltrow’s attorneys also took a dig at Sanderson’s old age. “He’s 76. I mean, my parents … they were dead by then. They certainly weren’t taking 10 trips around the world, so we have to look at that.
“He hit her, he hurt her and he’s not entitled to sue her. He’s entitled to be here today but he’s not entitled to be rewarded for hurting her. That’s not how this country works.”
Paltrow’s attorneys pushed on, calling Sanderson’s claims against her “meritless”.
“You don’t throw a $3m bombshell in the courtroom, call her ‘King Kong,’ and walk away,” one said, referring to Sanderson’s previous comments that compared Paltrow to the giant fictional gorilla.
Earlier, attorneys for Sanderson called Richard Boehme, a neurologist, as their final witness.
“This is not a free-falling event,” Boehme said. “There is not enough impact force to fracture those ribs, so there has to be a mitigating circumstance, ie: something fell on top of him in addition to him falling to the ground to cause those ribs to fracture in an otherwise healthy male.”
Throughout the week, Paltrow’s attorneys continued their two-pronged approach, arguing that she did not cause the accident and that its effects were not as bad as Sanderson claims. They have painted him as an “obsessed” man pushing “utter BS” claims against someone whose fame makes them vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits.
Sanderson’s team have pressed on how the man they say is the sole eyewitness testified to seeing Paltrow hit their client, and have spun the case as a contemporary David-and-Goliath tale in which Sanderson had the courage to take on a Hollywood star.
Sanderson testified last week that he has pursued damages because the cascading events that followed the crash – his post-concussion symptoms and the accusation that he sued to exploit Paltrow’s celebrity – added insult to injury.
“That’s the purpose: to make me regret this lawsuit. It’s the pain of trying to sue a celebrity,” Sanderson said on Wednesday in response to a question from his attorney about Paltrow’s team investigating his personal life, medical records and extensive post-crash international travel itinerary.
Though both sides have marshaled significant resources, the verdict could end up being remembered as an afterthought dwarfed by worldwide attention. The amount of money at stake pales in comparison to the typical legal costs of a multi-year lawsuit, private security detail and an expert-witness heavy trial.
The trial has shone a spotlight on Park City, an upscale ski resort that welcomes celebrities such as Paltrow for the Sundance film festival.
Residents have filled the courtroom gallery. At times they have appeared captivated by Paltrow’s reactions, while at others they have mirrored the jury, whose endurance has been tested by hours of dense medical testimony.
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