Academy Award winner and wellness mogul Gwyneth Paltrow has been found not liable in a 2016 ski collision that a retired Army optometrist claimed left him with permanent brain injuries.
After less than three hours of deliberation on Thursday, the jury reached a verdict that Paltrow was not responsible for crashing into Terry Sanderson. They ordered Sanderson to pay $1 and her legal fees.
Sanderson, 76, had originally sued Paltrow for $3 million after he said she crashed into him while not paying attention to her surroundings at Deer Valley Resort in Utah. The amount was reduced to more than $300,000 before the case went to trial.
But in his closing statement on Thursday, Lawrence Buhler, one of Sanderson’s attorneys, suggested a $3,276,000 award would be appropriate, citing the “harms and losses” Sanderson has experienced in the seven years since the crash and will continue to experience for the rest of his life.
Paltrow, in contrast, testified that Sanderson crashed into her. She said she initially thought that she was being sexually assaulted and described her shock.
"I only heard a male voice," she said. "I heard nothing that maybe happened before I came to that point in consciousness."
In her testimony, Paltrow said she countersued for $1 in damages to be “symbolic because the damages would actually be more.” Her lawyers said Sanderson’s only motive for suing her was to exploit her wealth and fame.
Sanderson said he broke four ribs and sustained permanent brain injuries from this crash. Both Paltrow’s and Sanderson’s legal teams brought in expert witnesses to argue whether or not the collision created long-term problems in his life.
Dr. Alina Fong, Sanderson’s expert witness, said his tiredness, change in personality, and pain were similar to postconcussion symptoms.
Dr. Carl Black, a neuroradiologist who was called to the stand by Paltrow's team, reviewed Sanderson’s 2009 brain scan and said he had “white matter disease” that would have been present before the accident, adding that there “is no evidence of post-traumatic brain injury.”
“If he had a concussion, it was very mild,” Black said.
With tears in his eyes, Sanderson testified on the emotional fallout of the incident. He said he cannot maintain relationships with friends and loved ones like he did before the crash. He added he broke up with his girlfriend after he was injured because he didn't want her to feel like she was with "a crippled vet."
Karlene Davidson, Sanderson’s ex-girlfriend, testified that he was full of joy before the collision. She said he became more agitated and pushed her away afterward.
Paltrow's attorney also showed messages between Sanderson and his daughter hours after the crash, one of which said, “I’m famous.”
She then replied, “Dad, I cannot believe how unlucky and how crazy this all is. I can’t believe this is all on GoPro. What are the chances? I’m so glad you’re okay,” according to the messages shown by Paltrow’s attorneys.
The GoPro footage mentioned in the message raised much speculation on Sanderson’s case, with Paltrow's lawyers calling it “the most important piece of evidence”; however, attorneys were never able to access the link included in the message.
A man who had been watching the trial, however, was able to access the link and found it led to a group chat among Sanderson’s ski meetup group.
While the GoPro footage still wasn’t found, Judge Kent Holmberg said the online sleuth had found evidence that was included in a chat log of Sanderson’s ski group on the day of the collision. Craig Ramon, who allegedly was the only witness to the incident, said Paltrow had crashed into Sanderson in a message that appeared to be sent years before the lawsuit was filed.
"Terry was knocked out cold. Bad hit to the head!" Ramon wrote, according to the message. "I did see the hit. Terry did not know his name."