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Gwyneth Paltrow ski collision trial: Legal experts analyze if celebrity status made her a target

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Gwyneth Paltrow’s name is synonymous with a Hollywood lifestyle, and her controversial wellness brand, Goop, which was recently valued at $250 million.

On the third day of a civil trial where she’s being sued for causing “permanent traumatic brain injury” to Terry Sanderson after allegedly crashing into him while skiing at an exclusive resort in Utah in 2016, legal experts weighed in on whether the suit was related to Sanderson’s injuries or Paltrow’s last name.

Sanderson, a retired optometrist, originally sued Paltrow for $3.1 million and claimed he was a victim of a hit-and-run. A judge dismissed the claim and removed the Deer Valley Resort where the incident happened and a ski instructor from the lawsuit before Sanderson proceeded with the $300,000 suit. In her countersuit, she is seeking $1 and attorney’s fees.

Healthcare attorney Harry Nelson, founder and managing partner of Nelson Hardiman, told Fox News Digital that celebrity status can often be a reason why people pursue litigation.

“The unfortunate reality is that there are many plaintiff attorneys and plaintiffs out there who view personal injury litigation opportunistically, and will see a defendant’s deep pockets or fame as a reason to sue or to seek much higher amounts than they would otherwise. It’s part of the price of celebrity and wealth,” Nelson said.

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Gwyneth Paltrow's celebrity status could be a factor in why she's fighting against civil suit from 2016 ski collision, according to some legal experts. Meanwhile, another expert says that negligence cases such as Sanderson vs. Paltrow,

Gwyneth Paltrow’s celebrity status could be a factor in why she’s fighting against civil suit from 2016 ski collision, according to some legal experts. Meanwhile, another expert says that negligence cases such as Sanderson vs. Paltrow, “go to trial all the time.” (Associated Press)

The “Iron Man” actress has maintained that Sanderson actually skied into her, and claims she stuck around until given the OK to leave by a ski instructor. In her countersuit, she said Sanderson previously admitted he didn’t have a clear memory of the accident.

“Plaintiff lawyers are at risk for the cases they pick, and there’s no question it’s a better investment of their time when they know they are chasing someone with money,” Nelson said. “They are also well aware that celebrities have a global personal brand to uphold that can be damaged by allegations, even when they are false, so they will be willing to pay more and quicker to negotiate settlements to avoid reputational harm.”

“The reality is that minor collisions occur daily without lawsuits at every ski resort in America.”

— Harry Nelson, founder and managing partner of Nelson Hardiman

He added, “The reality is that minor collisions occur daily without lawsuits at every ski resort in America and, if Gwyneth was anonymous, the chances of a case being filed here are slim and none. If the plaintiff, Mr. Sanderson, is being truthful about the fact that Gwyneth crashed into him and that he really suffered these damages, then my heart goes out to him – and, like it or not, the rule in American courts is that it’s her misfortune that he was so frail (what we call an ‘Eggshell Plaintiff’).

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“At the same time, it’s hard not to wonder what really happened at Deer Valley, and whether this whole incident would have been forgotten about it immediately after if Gwyneth had not been so recognizable.” 

Paltrow arrived in court on Wednesday wearing a cream-colored blouse.

Paltrow arrived in court on Wednesday wearing a cream-colored blouse. (Rick Bowmer)

Gwyneth Paltrow wore a cream sweater and glasses for first court appearance Tuesday related to 2016 ski incident.

Gwyneth Paltrow wore a cream sweater and glasses for first court appearance Tuesday related to 2016 ski incident. (Rick Bowmer)

Sanderson’s legal team presented witnesses in the Park City courtroom to testify how rapidly Terry’s mental health deteriorated after the collision. Dr. Wendell Gibby took the stand Wednesday and said Sanderson was a “very high functioning, high energy person” prior to the incident.

“But after his accident, he deteriorated abruptly, and many of the activities that he used to do, he stopped doing, like, for the most part … He normally could, you know, handle multiple projects at once, but he would have to sit there and focus very hard on one task, he would go to a Home Depot, for example, and forget why he was there.”

FIRST WITNESS IN GWYNETH PALTROW’S SKI COLLISION TRIAL STUMBLES OVER MEMORY OF INCIDENT

Gibby added, “He also experienced a worsening of his depression and so those are very typical hallmarks of someone who has had a traumatic injury.”

“In this case, the parties have such different stories of how a collision occurred, and the injuries involved are significant; that is exactly when a case is likely to go to trial.”

—  Emily D. Baker, former Los Angeles County prosecutor

Former Los Angeles County prosecutor, Emily D. Baker, told Fox News Digital that negligence cases such as Sanderson vs. Paltrow, “go to trial all the time.”

“In this case, the parties have such different stories of how a collision occurred, and the injuries involved are significant; that is exactly when a case is likely to go to trial,” Baker said. “Both sides think they are right, which makes it very hard to settle.” 

Baker noted “there are plenty of collisions that don’t go to trial, or even have a lawsuit filed.”

Dr. Wendell Gibby testified in support of Sanderson's lawsuit blaming actor Gwyneth Paltrow for the crash. He said Sanderson's head trauma was likely caused by a skier crashing into him.

Dr. Wendell Gibby testified in support of Sanderson’s lawsuit blaming actor Gwyneth Paltrow for the crash. He said Sanderson’s head trauma was likely caused by a skier crashing into him. (Rick Bowmer)

Dr. Samuel Goldstein, a neuropsychologist, testified about Sanderson's brain trauma. 

Dr. Samuel Goldstein, a neuropsychologist, testified about Sanderson’s brain trauma.  (Rick Bowmer)

“However, when a party has a life changing injury, as the plaintiff here is alleging, it’s not unusual that a lawsuit would be brought, we just wouldn’t be hearing about it,” Baker said. “Based on Sanderson’s statements at his press conference when this case was filed, it’s clear that he feels strongly that Paltrow needs to be held responsible for this accident.”

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Sanderson accused Paltrow of crashing into him while skiing, an accident which left him with a “permanent traumatic brain injury, 4 broken ribs, pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life,” along with emotional distress and disfigurement, according to the lawsuit obtained by Fox News Digital.

Seth Berenzweig, founding and managing partner of Berenzweig Leonard, told Fox News Digital that these cases can be difficult to call, but evidence appears to show that Sanderson may have a “credibility problem.”

“The evidence shows that although he claimed he was massively and immediately injured by the impact, the evidence seems to point otherwise,” Berenzweig said. “Shortly after the collision, he texted a relative and said, ‘I’m famous,’ according to the defendant, and according to the defendant, as he was going down – the medical sled down the hill while getting assistance – he took a lighthearted selfie of himself.”

Gwyneth Paltrow claims she was the one who was crashed into in a 2016 ski accident.

Gwyneth Paltrow claims she was the one who was crashed into in a 2016 ski accident. (Rick Bowmer)

Terry Sanderson arrives at court Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Park City, Utah. The retired optometrist is suing actor Gwyneth Paltrow over a 2016 ski collision that took place at Deer Valley Resort. 

Terry Sanderson arrives at court Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Park City, Utah. The retired optometrist is suing actor Gwyneth Paltrow over a 2016 ski collision that took place at Deer Valley Resort.  (Rick Bowmer)

He believes that Paltrow is in “pretty good shape and definitely has the stronger hand of cards to play” in the trial, which is expected to last eight days.

“The biggest concern with the celebrity when they’re a defendant is that they don’t want to be portrayed as being cold or greedy,” Berenzweig said. “I thought it was an interesting strategy that Gwyneth sued for $1. She claimed that she was injured, and it was his fault. But I think she’s basically sending a message to the public that she’s not in it for the money. 

“She’s really just standing her legal ground. And those are the sorts of movements that are important.”

Paltrow’s lawyers are prepping Paltrow to take the stand on Friday. The jury will also hear testimony from her husband Brad Falchuk and her kids, Moses, 16, and Apple, 18.

Fox News Digital’s Lauryn Overhultz and Ashley Papa contributed to this report.

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