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'Utter BS': What happened at Gwyneth Paltrow's trial?

Gwyneth Paltrow on the red carpet
Image: Andrea Ruffin /

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When a Hollywood megastar collided with a retired optometrist on a ski slope in Utah it led to one of the oddest celebrity trials in living memory. Here’s what happened.

‘Utter BS’

Civil suits involving celebrities can be very serious (Depp vs Heard) and rather silly (Rooney vs Vardy), but the Gwyneth Paltrow trial has the distinction of being just plain bizarre.

In March 2023, as the world watched on, Paltrow clashed (metaphorically) with 76-year-old retired optometrist Terry Sanderson about the time they clashed (literally) on a Utah ski slope seven years prior.

Sanderson was suing Paltrow for $300,000, down from his initial asking price of $3.1 million, for allegedly smashing into him on the slope, causing ‘a brain injury, four broken ribs and other serious injuries’.

Paltrow, meanwhile, was countersuing him for the symbolic amount of $1, saying that the crash was in fact Sanderson’s fault and that the whole thing was a brazen attempt to exploit her ‘celebrity' and ‘wealth’. Or, as one of her attorneys bluntly put it, ‘utter BS’.

‘A very strange grunting noise’

The precise details of the crash itself made for some of the most compelling testimonies of the trial. Taking the stand, Gwyneth Paltrow recounted how confused she was when she first felt Sanderson bash into her:

‘Two skis came between my skis, forcing my legs apart. And then there was a body pressing against me and there was a very strange grunting noise… I thought is this a practical joke, is someone doing something perverted?’

Paltrow admitted she lost her temper, turning on Sanderson and saying, ‘You skied directly into my f***ing back!’ According to the star, Sanderson was gushingly apologetic, saying he was ‘sorry’ multiple times.

But Sanderson told the court a very different story. ‘I just remember everything was great and then I hear something I’ve never heard at a ski resort, a blood-curdling scream,’ he said. ‘It was like somebody was out of control and was going to hit a tree and was going to die.’

‘I’m famous’

Whoever crashed into who, there was one key question that Sanderson had to answer. ‘Did you,’ an attorney asked, ‘think it was cool to collide with a celebrity?’

Sanderson dismissed the very idea that he was so basic as to be remotely excited by his brush with an A-lister, replying, ‘Absolutely not. That’s not who I am. No.’

This assertion made it pretty awkward when it was revealed that he’d sent an online message to his daughter saying, ‘I’m famous’.

‘I think I’m shrinking’

Sanderson’s attorney, Kristin VanOrman, may have been there to pick apart Paltrow’s version of events, but she could also be downright chummy – albeit in the most awkward way imaginable. Exhibit A: the time Paltrow was taking the stand and VanOrman suddenly asked what her height was.

Paltrow: ‘I’m just under 5’ 10’

VanOrman: ‘I’m so jealous!’

Paltrow: ‘I think I’m shrinking though’

VanOrman: ‘I have to wear 4-inch heels just to make it to 5’ 5’

Paltrow: ‘Well, they’re very nice.’

'What does “anal retentive” mean?’

Paltrow’s attorney Stephen Owens also provided some memorable moments, including an exchange with Sanderson’s daughter, Polly Sanderson Grasham, which featured more uses of the phrase ‘anal retentive’ than any other conversation in recorded history.

Asked about her father’s allegedly uptight and ‘anal retentive’ personality, she replied, ‘I don’t even know what “anal retentive” means. What does “anal retentive” mean?’

She and the attorney attempted to define ‘anal retentive’, with Owens emphasising it was important they were on the ‘same page’ about ‘anal retentive’. Sanderson Grasham replied, ‘I would not call him anal retentive’, and Owens helpfully pointed out that ‘anal retentive has nothing to do with our bottoms’.

‘I was being an ass’

Discussions of excretory organs aside, Stephen Owens did go in pretty hard when cross-examining Polly Sanderson Grasham on her father’s personality and life history. He brought up the time Terry Sanderson allegedly punched a man he believed was having an affair with his wife, and how he had been allegedly hostile to her sister Jenny.

Later on, Owens clearly thought he’d overstepped, and made a strikingly self-deprecating apology in the courtroom, saying, ‘I was being an ass earlier. It was wrong for me to triangulate you, your dad and your sister and your mom, and I ask for your forgiveness.’

‘A shell of a man’

One of the great ‘gotcha’ moments of the trial was when Sanderson’s travel itinerary was brought up by Paltrow’s team. Sanderson had maintained the crash had wrecked his life, yet he was revealed to have enjoyed a spectacular series of jaunts that would put a gap-year globetrotter to shame.

From visiting Machu Picchu to sailing down the Amazon to riding a zip line in Costa Rice, not to mention a grand tour of Europe, two visits to Morocco and a vacation in Thailand, Sanderson had certainly packed in a lot during the years since the ski collision, when he was supposed to have been a broken ‘shell of a man’.

‘I wish you well’

It took the jury just two hours and 20 minutes to reach a verdict – namely, that Sanderson was ‘100% at fault’ for the collision. As a vindicated Paltrow walked out of the court, she paused to whisper the words, ‘I wish you well’ to Sanderson – a moment that of course went immediately viral.

When asked by reporters if the trial had been worth it, Sanderson had two words, ‘Absolutely not.’