Terry Sanderson, the retired optometrist suing Gwyneth Paltrow for $3 million over a 2016 ski crash, teared up on the stand and cast the accident as a tragedy that took away one of his lifelong passions.
“I’m like living another life now,” Sanderson told jurors in the Third District Court on Monday in Park City, Utah. “I don’t take any risks.”
Describing himself as an “advanced intermediate” skier who had, until the crash, spent the majority of his life skiing, Sanderson and his attorney, Kristin Van Orman, sought to poke holes in last week’s courtroom testimony by the Academy Award-winning actress.
The plaintiff relayed his memory of the incident as his attorney tried to keep a promise about sticking to a tight schedule on Monday.
“Everything was great, and then I heard something I’d never heard at a ski resort,” Sanderson said. “And that was a blood-curdling scream.”
“I can’t do it,” Sanderson continued, trying to mimic the alleged scream.
“And then – boom,” he continued, motioning with his hands for a lone, loud clap. “And it was like somebody was out of control and gonna hit a tree and was gonna die. And that’s what I had until I was hit.”
Attorney Kristin Van Orman clarified that her client meant he had that memory of the events just until the impact.
“Oh my gosh,” he replied. “Somebody’s out of control, and they’re seriously out of control.”
More Law&Crime coverage: ‘Strange grunting noise’: Gwyneth Paltrow first thought ski crash was a sexual assault
Paltrow’s side objected as Sanderson relayed his experience of the moments before the two skiers hit one another. Paltrow herself sat wide-eyed and shook her head in response. Defense attorney Stephen Owens pressed the court to rule on the objections as the plaintiff continued his testimony from him. Judge Kent Holmberg ultimately overruled those objections.
“I got hit in my back so hard, and right at my shoulder blades,” Sanderson went on. “And it felt like – it was perfectly centered. And her fist of hers and the poles were right there at the bottom of my shoulder blades. Serious, serious smack. Never been hit that hard. And I’m flying. I’m absolutely flying.”
The plaintiff’s attorney asked him to clarify that he wasn’t made “airborne” by the crash.
“All I saw was a whole lot of snow,” Sanderson replied. “And I didn’t see the sky, but I was flying in that sense.”
More Law&Crime coverage: Gwyneth Paltrow ski crash trial likely to be anything but simple, legal experts say
Prior to the disputed crash, Sanderson said he had never been involved in another skiing accident throughout some 37 years on the slopes. Van Orman spent considerable time last Friday attempting to elicit testimony from Paltrow that she was clumsy and “accident prone,” over sustained objections from the defendant’s attorneys.
The defendant-actress also described the plaintiff as “large” and Sanderson testified that he was 5’5″ and 163 pounds. During cross-examination, however, Paltrow’s lead attorney Steve Owens reminded the plaintiff that in his 2020 deposition, he recalled that at the time of the crash, he was 5’8 and that he weighed upwards of 180 pounds.
The plaintiff also sought to dispute another of Paltrow’s key defenses – that he was the one who immediately apologized after the crash.
As he struggled to come to and reorient himself, Sanderson said he heard a man screaming at him and bullying him, insisting that he had hurt someone and had violated the rules of the slopes.
That person, the plaintiff alleges, was Deer Valley Resort ski instructor Eric Christiansen, who was named in the original lawsuit, along with the Deer Valley Resort Company. Judge Holmberg later struck the two other defendants, leaving only Paltrow left to defend the case in court.
“I remember saying: ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’” Sanderson said on Monday, whispering. “There was nothing coming out of my mouth.”
“Were you apologizing for causing the accident?” Van Orman asked.
“No, absolutely not,” he replied. “I was trying to tackle this man in the only defensive manner that I could.”
Later, Sanderson addressed the infamous email he sent to his three daughters in the hours after the crash with the subject line: “I’m famous.”
More Law&Crime coverage: Gwyneth Paltrow’s attorney tears into plaintiff in ski crash trial – refers to his old age and email saying ‘I’m famous…’
The plaintiff said he was “not into celebrity worship” and did not think it was “cool” he was involved in a crash with Paltrow – but he granted the email itself struck the wrong tone.
“I was really trying to add levity to a situation and it backfired,” Sanderson said.
As direct examination concluded, Van Orman asked her client if he was the one who was responsible for the crash.
Sanderson swore to God and his “other father up in Heaven” that he did not. Owens asked for the court to strike the religious oath and the court obliged, telling jurors to disregard it.
“My daddy would say, if you got the truth, you bring the truth, don’t let anybody back you down,” the plaintiff said, when accounting for why he, years later, filed his lawsuit against the actress.
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