By SAM METZ (Associated Press)
PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Gwyneth Paltrow insisted Friday on the witness stand that a ski collision at an upscale Utah ski resort in 2016 wasn’t her fault, claiming the man suing her had run into her from behind.
Paltrow testified that the crash shocked her — and said that she worried at first that she was being “violated.”
“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,” the actor-turned-lifestyle influencer added, clarifying on the stand that the collision was not a sexual violation.
Paltrow and Terry Sanderson, the retired optometrist who is suing her, are expected to give opposing accounts of the crash while their attorneys jostle to convince the 8-member jury which skier was positioned downhill and who had the right of way.
Throughout Paltrow’s heavily anticipated testimony, the founder-CEO of Goop calmly and repeatedly said that Sanderson, sitting several feet away in court, crashed into her. After the collision, Paltrow acknowledged that she yelled at Sanderson and didn’t stop to ask if he was OK. She said her family’s ski instructor promised to give Sanderson her contact info, according to rules of the slope.
To draw attention to her wealth and privilege, 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 four-member legal team 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. Throughout the week in Utah, her 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.
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. Sanderson is also scheduled to testify Monday.
The trial has touched on themes ranging from skier’s etiquette to the power — and burden — of celebrity.
After the collision, Sanderson sent his daughters an email with the subject line: “I’m famous … At what cost?” One of the daughters wrote back: “I also can’t believe this is all on GoPro.”
GoPro cameras are commonly worn by outdoor athletes including skiers to capture action sports.
Sanderson’s daughter, Shae Herath, testified Friday that she didn’t know whether GoPro footage existed, despite her email. She said her father told her over the phone that he assumed there must be footage of the collision — from someone on the crowded run with a camera affixed to their helmet.
“There was this big, blood curdling scream. Someone would’ve looked,” Herath said, recalling the conversation with her father about how Paltrow shrieked during their collision.
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.
The trial thus far has shone a spotlight on Park City, Utah — the posh ski town known for rolling out a red carpet for celebrities each January during the Sundance Film Festival — and skiers-only Deer Valley Resort, where Paltrow and Sanderson collided. The resort is among the most upscale in North America, known for sunny slopes, après-ski champagne yurts and luxury lodges.
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 even waved a $1 bill toward the jury. In 2017, Taylor Swift similarly countersued a radio host for the same, symbolic amount of $1. When asked whether she’s friends with Swift, Paltrow said no, but that she was “friendly” with the singer.
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.
Lawyers for Paltrow have raised questions about Sanderson’s mentions of their client’s celebrity as well as what they called his “obsession” with the lawsuit.
The first three days of the trial featured testimony from medical experts, Sanderson’s personal doctor, a ski companion and his two daughters, who spoke about his post-concussion symptoms.
On Thursday Paltrow’s attorneys asked Sanderson’s daughter whether her father thought it was “cool” to collide with a celebrity like Paltrow, the Oscar-winning star of “Shakespeare in Love.” She denied this characterization.
Paltrow’s attorneys have cast doubt on Sanderson’s medical experts and suggested that the lawsuit could be an attempt to exploit her fame and celebrity.
Associated Press writer Anna Furman contributed reporting from Los Angeles.
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