Oscar winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow was being sued by retired optometrist Terry Sanderon for allegedly injuring him during a skiing trip in 2016. She countersued for a symbolic single dollar and won the case. From the memes and the fashion, here are the key takeaways.
Gwyneth Paltrow has won her civil court case against a man who claimed she crashed into him and caused him significant injury while skiing dangerously.
76-year-old Terry Sanderson had sued the actress for $300,000 (approximately €275,000) for her allegedly skiing into him, causing him to suffer with several broken ribs and a concussion at a ski resort in Utah in 2016.
Paltrow counter-sued him for a single dollar - and her legal fees - after denying all responsibility and saying he, in fact, crashed into her. The multi-millionaire is now $1 richer after the jury found retired optometrist Terry Sanderson "100%" at fault for the accident.
The jurors deliberated for just two hours after hearing eight days of evidence and found in favour of Paltrow - now more famous for her Goop lifestyle brand which promotes holistic wellness and sells a candle called ‘This Smells Like My Vagina’ for $75 (about €69).
Her legal team shot down his claims he’d become a "self-imposed recluse" who would never be able to ski again; her lawyers showed the courtroom photographs of him enjoying numerous holidays after the collision. His lawyers in turn countered this, saying that medical experts told him travelling would be “healing” and claiming he had struggled during his post-crash trips.
However, Paltrow lost out too, in a way. Despite winning the dollar, she admitted to having lost "half a day of skiing" at the exclusive Deer Valley resort after the incident.
The trial's most shocking moments
While on the stand, Paltrow described her reaction to the 2016 ski crash, saying: "I was yelling at him… I was pretty upset". Sanderson’s lawyer Kristin Vanorman responded, saying: "You're small but mighty", but then immediately added, "Actually, you're not that small".
This wasn’t the only reference to the Oscar winner’s size and vocal power during the trial.
Sanderson took it upon himself to apologise directly to Paltrow for describing her in a press conference in 2019 as screaming like "King Kong in the jungle". He explained he had meant to say she screamed like a woman being chased by King Kong, rather than the enormous beast himself.
Treating a courtroom like a picnic site is not a usual practice, but it’s perhaps unsurprising that this trial was the right one to try to change that precedent. Paltrow's lawyer Steve Owens asked Judge Kent Holmberg if his team could bring in ‘treats’ to the courtroom “for the bailiffs for how helpful they've been". Sanderson’s legal team objected to the motion so nobody got any treats, with the judge saying: “Ok, there's an objection so thank you, but no thank you".
At the heart of this case is, to put it bluntly, money.
Paltrow and Sanderson both admitted that their respective trips to Deer Valley were ‘expensive’ and the resort has been described as ‘the ultimate in ski luxury’ by The Luxury Vacation Guide.
It’s no surprise, then, that photographs of Paltrow shielding her face with a notebook went viral - especially as the notebook in question is from luxury retailer Smythson and retails at a cool $325 (around €299). A basic pad from a low-end stationary store clearly wouldn’t have cut it.
The same sentiments apply to her outfits - all of which have been understated and perhaps even a little dull.
The price tag is anything but, though. Paltrow's looks throughout the trial have been a display of stealth wealth and lean into the current trend for ‘bore-core’ - a subtle approach to power dressing that implies wealth rather than makes it obvious, all while shunning any need to try to impress anyone with an outfit.
This tactic came at a huge financial cost though - a basic-looking cream Loro Piana roll neck the lifestyle guru wore on one occasion retails for around a staggering €1,385. As the outfits look so ordinary and their sky high price only recognisable to others with similar bank balances, it’s likely they were part of a ploy to win jury members over by convincing the twelve she’s ‘one of them’.
A new legal icon is born
While Paltrow sits firmly in the Hollywood A-list with a long career behind her, arguably the real star of the courtroom was actually Sanderson's attorney Kristin Vanorman whose bizarre line of questioning had the internet baffled.
Vanorman gave off very Elle Woods of Legally Blonde -fame vibes with her approach throughout the trial. She complemented Paltrow’s ski outfit, asked the actress to say under oath whether she was a good tipper and told her "I am so jealous" when Paltrow said she was “nearly 5’10” in height, adding: “I have to wear 4 inch heels just to make it to 5'5".
Vanorman visibly blushed when Paltrow went on to compliment the lawyer's shoes, telling her: "They're very nice".
Whether this sometimes seemingly over-friendly approach to the cross examination may have been a legal tactic to put Paltrow at ease is unclear but it did lead to one of the oddest standout moments of the entire trial.
When Vanorman asked Paltrow why she had countersued for only $1, she pondered out loud whether the actress had got the idea to request the symbolic amount from none other than Taylor Swift - who had sued for the same amount in a previous court case. When Paltrow admitted she was aware of the situation but hadn’t purposefully replicated it, Vanorman continued on with the Taylor Swift line like a dog with a bone.
"Are you good friends with Taylor Swift?", she asked, to which Paltrow replied: "No. I would not say we are good friends, we are friendly. I’ve taken my kids to one of her concerts before but we don’t talk very often".
Vanorman’s question of whether Paltrow had “given Ms Swift personal, intimate gifts for Christmas” was deemed irrelevant by the actress’ lawyer.
It’s thought that Vanorman’s comments were in reference to Goop ’s 2021 holiday gifting, which saw the brand give a number of celebrities, including Taylor Swift, a special package - but it remains a mystery as to why this detail is relevant to the case as a whole.
The trial that spawned a million memes
While sports injuries are no laughing matter, the internet didn’t stop making the remarkable courtroom action into some truly top tier memes.
Here are some of our favourites:
Why we love a televised celebrity trial
In a world where the majority of us are terminally online, it’s little wonder that this trial has been one of the most followed and discussed stories of 2023.
Paltrow’s case comes after last year’s battle of two other Hollywood heavyweights - former spouses Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, who countersued one another for defamation of character.
The livestreamed trial, which ran from April to June 2022, attracted a large number of viewers and was a hot topic on social media. The intense coverage also renewed debates around domestic violence, the #MeToo movement and women's rights in general, especially as Amber Heard bore the brunt of online and press criticism.
The decision to live-stream the Depp-v-Heard trial was very controversial at the time due to allegations of domestic violence throughout - and Amber Heard’s legal team tried to get cameras banned from the Virginia-based courtroom. In the end, presiding Judge Azcarate said: “I don’t see any good cause not to do it”.
It certainly made interested in the trial skyrocket, with countless video clips shared across social media and the Law & Crime network app, which streams legal cases, announced at the time that average daily viewership was 50 times higher than before Depp and Heard stepped foot in front of the courtroom cameras.
Paltrow’s trial has followed effortlessly in the footsteps of that case and taken the internet by storm, spawning memes and endless jokes as well as firmly cementing televised celebrity trials as a new form of entertainment.
Interestingly, director Ryan Murphy, who worked with Paltrow on dramedy The Politician has previously put out three anthology seasons focusing on celebrity crimes as part of his American Crime Story series. The People v. O. J. Simpson told a dramatised version of the ‘trial of the century’, The Assassination of Gianni Versace chronicled the murder of designer Gianni Versace by spree-killer Andrew Cunanan and Impeachment follows the aftermath of the Clinton–Lewinsky scandal.
Paltrow’s trial already seems like one of these semi-fictional TV spectaculars hence the huge entertainment value and level of engagement from the public. It does beg the question of whether American Crime Story and shows of its ilk are now redundant.
So, are real-life, televised trials featuring stars of the silver screen here to stay?