PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Gwyneth Paltrow insisted Friday on the witness stand that a 2016 ski collision at an upscale Utah ski resort wasn’t her fault, claiming it began when the man suing her ran into her from behind.
The actor-turned-lifestyle influencer testified that the crash shocked her — and the way the man's skis veered between her two legs made her worry at first that she was being “violated,” she said.
“There was a body pressing against me and a very strange grunting noise,” she said.
“My brain was trying to make sense of what was happening," she continued. Paltrow later clarified that after her split-second panic, she realized that the sudden collision wasn't sexual in nature.
After sitting in court for four days, Paltrow remained calm and collected for more than two hours on the witness stand. Members of the Park City jury sat transfixed while she categorically denied fault for the collision.
Terry Sanderson, the retired optometrist who is suing her, is expected to give an opposing account of the crash when he takes the stand first on Monday.
Throughout Paltrow’s heavily anticipated testimony, the founder-CEO of Goop calmly and repeatedly said that Sanderson, sitting several feet away in court, ran into her — causing the two skiers to end up splayed out on the beginner run with Paltrow on top and Sanderson beneath her. In the seconds after the collision, Paltrow acknowledged that she yelled at Sanderson and didn't stop to ask if he was OK. Paltrow testified that she stood nearby on the mountain as one of her family’s four ski instructors promised to give Sanderson her contact information and file an incident report.
In an exchange that touched on recurring themes of the trial, Sanderson's attorneys attempted to depict the decision as reflective of celebrity carelessness, while Paltrow insisted that she — not the 76-year-old man suing her — was the wounded party.
“You have to keep in mind, when you’re the victim of a crash, your psychology is not necessarily thinking about the person who perpetrated it,” she said.
To draw the jury's attention to Paltrow's wealth, Sanderson's lawyers probed Paltrow about the price of ski instructors at posh Deer Valley Resort and her decision to leave the mountain to get a massage the day of the crash.
Sanderson and his multiple-member legal team at one point dispersed themselves across the courtroom to possibly reenact the crash for the jury, whose members perked up after days of yawning through jargon-dense medical testimony about his broken ribs, concussion and brain damage.
Paltrow's attorneys objected to her participation in such a reenactment, leaving her sitting on the witness stand watching the lawyer questioning her take on the role of the Oscar-winning actor.
Next week, Paltrow's team may call her back to the stand, as well as medical experts, ski instructors and her two children, Moses and Apple.
The trial has 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.
Throughout the week in Utah, Paltrow's legal team has asked for special restrictions, including limiting photography both in the courtroom and in the public parking lot outside — where a rope cordons off Paltrow’s entrance and exit paths. Unlike most trials, the court has not published a witness list.
Paltrow's attorneys argue both that she didn't cause the crash and that the extent of Sanderson's injuries is exaggerated. They've raised questions about Sanderson's motivation for suing Paltrow, probing his family members about his post-crash communications about her celebrity and his proximity to it.
They've asked two of Sanderson’s daughters whether their father thought it was “cool” to collide with a celebrity like Paltrow — characterizations they've denied.
After the collision, Sanderson sent his daughters an email with the subject line: “I’m famous ... At what cost?” The oldest daughter, Shae Herath, wrote back: “I also can’t believe this is all on GoPro.”
On Friday, Herath attempted to clarify the record amid questions about the possibility that the crash was recorded on a bystander’s helmet camera that have intrigued both the Park City jury — and online viewers who’ve tuned into live footage of the movie star’s trial.
Herath testified Friday that she didn't know whether footage existed and said her email referred to an earlier phone conversation in which her father told her he assumed there must be footage of the collision from someone on the crowded run with a GoPro. The camera is a common accessory for skiers at resorts like Deer Valley.
While Sanderson’s attorneys have focused on their client’s deteriorating health, Paltrow’s legal team has intrigued the jury with recurring questions about the mysterious, missing GoPro footage. No video footage has since been located or entered as evidence.
GoPro cameras are commonly worn by outdoor athletes including skiers to capture action sports.
The proceedings have delved deep into the 76-year-old Sanderson's medical history and personality changes, with attorneys questioning whether his deteriorating health and estranged relationships stemmed from the collision or natural process of aging.
After a judge threw out Sanderson's earlier $3.1 million lawsuit, Sanderson then claimed damages of “more than $300,000." Paltrow has countersued for a symbolic $1 and attorney fees, and one of her attorneys has repeatedly waved a $1 bill toward the jury.
Sanderson’s attorneys likened the symbolic action of suing for $1 to a 2017 countersuit filed by Taylor Swift against a radio host for the same amount in an effort to draw attention to Paltrow’s celebrity. When asked whether she’s friends with Swift over a parade of objections from her attorney, Paltrow said no, but that she was “friendly” with the singer.
Associated Press writer Anna Furman contributed reporting from Los Angeles.
Sam Metz, The Associated Press