Not Guilty: Jury Comes to Quick Decision in Case Against Gwyneth Paltrow

Gregg Frantz | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Photo Credit: Sky News

The now famous trial between Gwyneth Paltrow and Terry Sanderson ended with the decision ruling in favor of the Defendant, Gwyneth Paltrow. She has been awarded $1 plus legal fees.

In the 2019 lawsuit, retired optometrist Terry Sanderson alleges that on February 26, 2016, Oscar-winning actress Paltrow was skiing “out of control” and that she hit him from behind, “knocking him down, landing on top of him, and causing him to suffer a concussion, brain injury, and four broken ribs.” He initially sued her for damages above $3.1 million for the alleged “hit-and-run ski crash,” claiming she hit him and then skied away as he lay in the snow with serious injuries, reported the Salt Lake Tribune. Three weeks later, Paltrow countersued, claiming it was, in fact, Sanderson that hit her. This case has not only been watched by individuals in the ski industry but captivated millions as we saw this trial play out on television during the last eight days.

In May 2022, a Utah judge dismissed some claims, ruling that it was not a hit-and-run ski crash as the lawsuit claimed. After hearing arguments from Paltrow’s attorneys, Judge Kent Holmberg dismissed the claims that she negligently inflicted emotional distress and that Sanderson was entitled to punitive damages. Sanderson still sought over $300,000 from the lawsuit, maintaining that Paltrow negligently caused his injuries.

“This lawsuit is completely without merit, and we expect to be vindicated.” According to Sykes, Paltrow’s lawyers “don’t deny the collision. Their position is that Gwyneth Paltrow was downhill, and Terry Sanderson hit Gwyneth Paltrow.”

– Gwyneth Paltrow’s publiscist

I had the opportunity to speak with lawyers Chris Heavens from Heavens Law Firm and John Rooney from Rooney Philly Law Firm from Pennsylvania and get their opinions on the Paltrow case. Heavens and Rooney said this case to the general public is just like watching two rich people squabbling over money, and Sanderson was like a person looking to get his “15 minutes of fame”. Both Heavens and Rooney, who have experience handling these types of cases, also agreed that Sanderson seemed disingenuous at times and questioned the motive behind Sanderson taking this to trial in the first place. Rooney said, “I think this Paltrow trial is a fine example of how important a role credibility plays in such trials.” He continued by saying, “The jury reached a verdict 2 1/2 hours after an eight-day trial and found plaintiff Sanderson 100% at fault.” Rooney added, “That tells you all you need to know about how the jury felt about him.”

Facts and Timeline of Events: 

  • Plaintiff: Terry Sanderson
  • Defendant: Gwyneth Paltrow
  • Accusation: Paltrow collided with Sanderson causing traumatic brain injury and broken ribs
  • Location: Deer Valley, Utah
  • Date of Incident: February 26, 2016
  • Type: Civil Case: Initially sought $3.1 million but was dismissed and now seeking $300,000 in damages
  • Location of Trial: Park City, Utah
  • Case Start Date: March 21, 2023
Gwyneth Paltrow, deer valley Utah, hit and run, lawsuit
Gwyneth Paltrow on skis. Credit: Facebook

This case might have gotten a lot of attention from people outside the winter sports arena; however, does this case affect the individuals who participate in winter sports activities? The answer is an absolute ‘no.’ Ski resorts are not going to change the way they operate, regardless of which verdict came out of this case at all. We will not see any higher lift ticket prices, higher rental fees, new policies, or anything different regarding the operational aspects of how ski resorts conduct day-to-day business. Both lawyers, Heavens and Rooney,  agreed that ski resorts would not change how they operate in the future and that the case did not matter to ski resorts because no conduct made them liable. Heavens and Rooney also said that if this were Gwyneth “Jones” and not Gwyneth Paltrow, this case would probably have never gone to trial in the first place.

The reason is that the first thing every skier or rider must remember before hitting the slopes is the Skiing Responsibility Act. This means that any person who voluntarily engages in an activity known to be hazardous (skiing) and becomes injured cannot pursue any compensation for damages in court if they do become harmed or injured doing that activity.

Why is that important? The answer is simple. Ski resorts and their insurance companies, with their team of legal professionals, also know the Skiing Responsibility Act. They know it so well that they have implemented policies to make it very difficult for a person(s) to sue a ski resort for compensation for injuries they may have sustained due to a negligent skier. John Rooney said that most lawyers probably would not have taken this case, to begin with. I asked him why, and he said that because of all the expert witnesses they called throughout this trial, it would have been costly and would not have been worth the money. Rooney said that in most of these cases, it is hard to prove negligence against a person unless they were grossly negligent, like being under the influence while running into someone and causing them injuries.

So, what happens if you are skiing at a ski resort and someone who is out of control runs into you, knocks you over, and you become injured? According to the Skiing Responsibility Act, that person who was injured by the individual who was skiing out of control can be sued by the person who was injured for simple negligence. That is why most skiing accident cases like Paltrows end up in a civil court against an individual and not against a ski resort.

The last thing anyone wants to do is to be sued while trying to have a fun day on the mountain. A straightforward way skiers and riders can protect themselves from lawsuits while on the mountain is to know and understand the Skier Responsibility Code. In 2022, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) updated the original Responsibility Code from 7 to 10 points. These signs are usually posted throughout the skiable areas and the ski resort’s main building(s).

Photo Credit: NSAA

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