Gwyneth Paltrow’s attorneys asked the daughter of a man suing the actor-turned-lifestyle influencer over a 2016 ski collision about missing GoPro camera footage that they called “the most important piece of evidence” at trial Thursday.
Steve Owens, Paltrow’s attorney, asked one of the man’s daughters, Polly Grasham, about emails exchanged with her father about the mysterious footage and the possibility that the lawsuit was filed against Paltrow because she was famous.
The GoPro footage has not been found or included as evidence for the trial.
“I’m famous … At what cost?” Terry Sanderson, the 76-year-old retired optometrist suing Paltrow, wrote in the subject line of an email to his family after the crash.
Sanderson is suing Paltrow for more than $300,000 in damages, claiming that she skied recklessly into him on a beginner run at Deer Valley Resort seven years ago, breaking his ribs and leaving him with a concussion. Paltrow has claimed Sanderson caused the crash and countersued for $1 and attorney fees.
The trial took on an increasingly personal note on the third day of proceedings when Sanderson’s daughter and a neuropsychologist testified about his declining health.
Sanderson’s attorneys tried to persuade jurors that the collision had changed the course of their client’s life, leaving him brain-impaired and damaging his relationships with loved ones.
Paltrow’s attorneys questioned whether Grasham and neuropsychologist Dr. Alina Fong could say with certainty that Sanderson’s downturn wasn’t a result of aging or documented, pre-crash conditions. They questioned Grasham about her father’s anger problems, divorces and estranged relationship with another of his daughters, who is not testifying at trial.
Paltrow has previously called the lawsuit an attempt to exploit her fame and celebrity. On Thursday, Owens, her lead counsel, asked Grasham why her father sent messages about his newfound fame.
“It matches his personality a little bit, making light of a serious situation,” Grasham said of the email.
Owens probed Sanderson’s “obsession” with the case and whether he thought it was “cool” to collide with a celebrity like Paltrow, the Oscar-winning star of “Shakespeare in Love” and founder-CEO of the wellness company, Goop.
Sanderson is expected to testify Friday about the lasting effects of the crash. He has not been present in the courtroom while his doctors and experts have detailed his health problems.
Paltrow could be called to testify on Friday or early next week, when the eight-day trial continues.
The proceedings thus far have touched on themes ranging from skier’s etiquette to the power — and burden — of celebrity. The amount of money at stake for both sides pales in comparison to the typical legal costs of a multiyear lawsuit, private security detail and expert witness-heavy trial. Sanderson’s attorney told the jury Thursday that this trial is about “value, not cost.”
The first two days of trial featured attorneys arguing about whether Sanderson or Paltrow was further down the slope during the collision — a disagreement rooted in a “Skiers Responsibility Code” that gives the skier who is downhill the right of way. Sanderson’s attorneys and expert medical witnesses described how his injuries were likely caused by someone crashing into him from behind. They attributed noticeable changes in Sanderson’s mental acuity to injuries from that day.
Paltrow’s attorneys have tried to represent Sanderson as a 76-year-old whose decline followed a normal course of aging rather than the results of a crash. They have not yet called witnesses of their own to testify, but in opening statements previewed for jurors that they plan to call Paltrow’s husband Brad Falchuk and her two children, Moses and Apple, to the stand next week.
Although ski collisions in general are not uncommon, most accidents occur when a skier collides with a tree or another kind of inanimate object or obstacle. Incidents where a skier collides with another skier happen less often. The National Ski Areas Association recorded 57 fatal incidents stemming from collisions during the 2021-2022 ski season, and most involved skiers hitting trees. Of all skiers who died in those incidents, 95% were men, according to the NSAA, which also reported 54 “catastrophic” incidents over the course of the same season.
This case and its eventual outcome hinge on whether Paltrow or Sanderson acted in an unreasonable manner while skiing that day in Deer Valley, and if someone did, then whom. Roger Cohn, a personal injury attorney at Kohn Roth Law, told CBS MoneyWatch that negligence is a central part of the debate.
“When one skier hits another, the issue is negligence. Did they do something wrong?” Cohn said, adding, “The uphill skier has to watch out for the downhill skier. If you’re overtaking someone and hit them, chances are you are liable and at fault.”
His analysis is consistent with the NSAA’s responsibility code, which applies to ski resorts across North America. According to the code, “people ahead of downhill of you have the right of way. You must avoid them.” The rules also stipulate that skiers must “always stay in control” and be able to stop when necessary to avoid other people.