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High Profile Cases: What we Learned from the Gwyneth Paltrow Ski Crash Trial

Written by Millie A. Goulden-Page – member of the Street Law Project


Gwyneth Paltrow, Hollywood actress and entrepreneur, triumphed against retired optometrist Terry Sanderson who sued the star for liability in a skiing collision. In his testimony requesting $300,000, Sanderson claimed Paltrow had skied into him, resulting in a traumatic brain injury. The jury found that Sanderson was ‘100 percent’ at fault for the 2016 collision and neurologists found his brain damage predated the crash [1].


1. Justice is both more fair and unfair for a celebrity

Samantha Imrie, a Juror on the case, told Good Morning America that the jury was ultimately swayed by the convincing testimony of snow expert Dr Irving Scher, and not simply Paltrow’s celebrity status [2]. Boasting more detail and evidence than Mr Sander’s account, it was clearly the more credible version, but we must question whether her stardom enhanced this appearance of credibility.


While some state that her celebrity status allowed her to take advantage of a two-tiered justice system, has it actually made her more susceptible to being sued? Faced with a lawsuit seven years after the incident, this is what Paltrow’s lawyers argued. Perhaps if Paltrow wasn’t famous, Sanderson wouldn’t have bothered suing for a collision that was his fault.


During proceedings, Sanderson was characterised as a fame-seeker, obsessive over the case and hungry for his moment in the limelight. Despite his claims not to be ‘into celebrity worship,’ uncovered emails titled ‘I’m famous’ after the crash stood as stark evidence of his character and motives [3]. This formed a key part of the defence, and he was accused of overplaying his injuries to capitalise on her fame.


2. How to use a court case to your advantage

Distinguishing itself from previous trials like Depp v Heard, the Defendant was able to close with an untouched, if not enhanced, image. The Hollywood star is more relevant than ever and perhaps she foreshadowed this before choosing to go to court. Paltrow handled the proceedings with poise, taking the opportunity to flaunt authenticity: Her clothes and $325 (£210) Smythson notebook, although expectedly expensive, showed humility in their neutral colours and understated elegance. It was not ostentatious glamour, but effortless modernity.


As a resourceful businesswoman, she mobilised the trial as a ‘catwalk’ to model the clothing line of her wellbeing brand Goop, whose name has become even more prominently known. This highly watched trial has commanded the media’s attention with many articles assisting the public on where to get these stylish pieces [4].


3. … But court cases aren’t always worth it

Mr Sanderson, on the other hand, arose from the trial with a tainted image, having had his dirty laundry publicly aired for the world to see: Details of his long medical history, infidelity and failures as a father threaten to loiter on the internet forever. It was certainly not worth it, as Sanderson now accounts, but this is the cost of confronting a public figure, of which he should have been fully aware [5]. Televised celebrity cases often end in personal details being made public, as Wagatha Christie and Depp and Heard learned.


4. Reputation is more important than money

Most celebrities with a £200 million net worth would have just settled in order to avoid the damage to their reputation that accompanies the unwanted media attention of a lawsuit. However, driven by integrity and rectitude, Paltrow took the risk, demanding the justice that our system promises. 'I felt that acquiescing to a false claim compromised my integrity,' Paltrow explained [6]. Justice was served.


Having won the case, Paltrow was granted the $1 settlement she requested. This symbolic amount demonstrates that the decision to go to court was propelled with her reputation in mind, not monetary compensation. This highlighted the credibility of good intentions in her case: She could have easily asked for more given that she lost half a day of skiing and suffered substantial potential reputational damage.


In a dignified fashion, Paltrow left the courtroom with her head held high. ‘I wish you well,’ she said to the man who had once threatened to damage her reputation [7]. A passive aggressive hidden subtext lingered in the air, disguised as polite well-wishes.



[1] The New York Times, Jury Finds Gwyneth Paltrow Not Liable in Damages Over the Crash, (2023) <https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/30/us/gwyneth-paltrow-trial-verdict.html>

[2] Good Morning American, Exclusive: Juror in Gwyneth Paltrow in Ski trial case speaks out, (2023) <https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/culture/story/exclusive-juror-gwyneth-paltrow-ski-trial-case-speaks-98259511>

[3] The Independent, Skier suing Gwyneth Paltrow is confronted over ‘I’m famous’ email as he insists ‘I’m not into celeb worship’, (2023) <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/gwyneth-paltrow-terry-sanderson-ski-trial-email-b2308888.html>

[4] Town & Country, Everything Gwyneth Paltrow Wore to Her Ski Trial, (2023) <https://www.townandcountrymag.com/style/fashion-trends/g43452321/gwyneth-paltrow-ski-accident-courtroom-style/>

[5] The Guardian, Suing Gwyneth Paltrow ‘absolutely not’ worth it, says Utah man, (2023) <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/apr/01/gwyneth-paltrow-ski-trial-terry-sanderson>

[6] Time, Gwyneth Paltrow Wins Lawsuit Over 2016 Utah Ski Crash, (2023) <https://time.com/6267412/gwyneth-paltrow-wins-lawsuit-ski-crash/>

[7] Sky News, ‘I wish you well’ Gwyneth Paltrow’s words to Terry Sanderson leaving court, (2023) <https://news.sky.com/video/i-wish-you-well-gwyneth-paltrows-words-to-terry-sanderson-leaving-court-12846121>




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