Gwyneth Paltrow takes the stand to give her side of 2016 ski crash: 'He was groaning and grunting'

Gwyneth Paltrow on the witness stand in Park City, Utah
Gwyneth Paltrow on the witness stand in Park City, Utah

RICK BOWMER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images Gwyneth Paltrow on the witness stand in Park City, Utah

Gwyneth Paltrow took the stand Friday to testify that the man suing her in civil court over a 2016 accident in Park City, Utah, skied directly into her.

Terry Sanderson, a 76-year-old retired optometrist, is seeking $300,000 from the Oscar-winning actress and lifestyle guru for a "full-body hit" that he says left him with a concussion, a permanent brain injury, broken ribs, and "loss of enjoyment of life."

Paltrow, 50, and Sanderson were skiing at Deer Valley Resort when the collision occurred. On the witness stand, Paltrow testified that Sanderson made lots of strange grunting noises at the time of the crash, which left her confused.

"I didn't know if it was an accident, but he was groaning and grunting in a very disturbing way," said Paltrow, who wore a somber black dress, a calm demeanor, and an occasional droll smile in the courtroom.

She told the jury that it crossed her mind she could be experiencing some kind of sexual assault, although the thought passed quickly.

"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," Paltrow said. "So my brain was trying to make sense of what was happening. I thought, 'Is this a practical joke? Is someone doing something perverted? This is really, really strange.'"

One issue in the trial, which got underway Tuesday in Park City, is the question of who ran into whom on the beginners' ski run, where Paltrow was skiing with her children Apple, now 18, and Moses, now 16, as well as her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Brad Falchuk, and his two children.

Craig Ramon, a friend of Sanderson's who was on the slopes that day, had testified earlier that Paltrow skied into Sanderson. But on Friday, Paltrow insisted that Sanderson ran into her in a slow-motion collision that knocked them both to the ground.

"Mr. Sanderson hit me," Paltrow said firmly. She further stated that Ramon was standing 40 feet away when the collision occurred, and that his story has changed from 2016 until now. "I don't believe he saw what he thinks he saw," she said.

The Shakespeare in Love star declined a request from Sanderson's attorney, Kristin Van Orman, to stand up and re-enact the accident, and a judge sustained her lawyer's objection to the suggestion.

Van Orman also brought up Paltrow's behavior after the collision, asking if she shouted and swore at Sanderson. Paltrow apologized for the language and said that screaming obscenities is unlike her.

"Unfortunately, adrenaline can take over, and emotion as well," she said.

The trial dipped into a different kind of emotional terrain Friday when Paltrow testified that skiing is important to her because it was important to her father, Bruce Paltrow, who died in 2002.

"I was pretty devastated by his death, and just being in the ski resort and on the chairlift, it was difficult for me," she said. "So I avoided it for a few years until I had my own kids, and then I heard his voice in my head saying I should teach them how to ski."

The trial also had lighter moments, including when Paltrow joked about shrinking as she's gotten older and Van Orman pointed out that she herself wears four-inch heels.

"They're very nice," Paltrow said politely.

Paltrow wryly referenced her celebrity status as well when her attorney, Steve Owens, asked if she takes criticism well. "In my profession after all these years of being in the public eye," she said, "I think I take it relatively well."

One of Sanderson's complaints is that Paltrow left one of her children's private ski instructors to handle the paperwork at the scene of the accident while she went for a massage. Under questioning, Paltrow denied asking the instructor, Eric Christiansen, to falsify any of the information about the accident.

Paltrow said the accident left her right knee feeling "overstretched" and her back sore, which is why she booked the massage. Furthermore, she lost half a day of skiing, for which she'd paid $8,980 for her and her children, according to a receipt entered into evidence Friday.

In a countersuit, Paltrow is asking for $1 in damages — an amount she considers symbolic — and reimbursement of her legal fees.

When the trial resumes next week, Paltrow's team plans to introduce an animated recreation of the accident, which Paltrow said accurately depicts what occurred on the mountain.

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