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Gwyneth Paltrow’s Ski Accident Court Case: An FAQ

Because there are many questions to be answered, such as: Why did Gwyneth show up to court looking like Adam Driver in ‘House of Gucci,’ and is this the richest, whitest dispute ever put on trial?

Getty Images/ Ringer illustration

Between Real Housewives, disgraced actors, and backwoods Southern lawyers, the past year has brought a steady and scandalous drip of public courtroom proceedings to feast our tweets upon. So steady that, at this point, it seems like if we didn’t have a televised legal showdown playing out across social media at all times, society as we know it might just collapse. And for these reasons, we must thank Gwyneth Paltrow for having the bravery to lace up her ski boots, race down a mountain, and get herself sued for (according to the plaintiff) running down a retired optometrist and (allegedly) being in too much of a hurry to get back to a piping hot thimble of bone broth to stop and say sorry.

As a person who grew up on the snow-free plains of Texas, I was under the impression that when people went skiing at fancy resorts, they signed some sort of waiver that said, like, “I have agreed to buckle sticks to my shoes and hurtle down a steep and snowy incline. These sticks are, by nature, ungainly, slick to the touch, and in an emergency, controlled only by my own ability to think, ‘Pizza! Pizza! PIZZA!’ with increasing urgency. I choose to strap these sticks to my feet because I have such an egregious amount of money that I do not fear the American health care system should I be injured. I recognize that in hurtling down said mountain on said sticks, I will be surrounded by other people—all strangers, of whose physical prowess and time spent at the Veuve Clicquot yurt lounge I know not—who will also be attached to sticks, and will also be reckless with power and money, whose sole recourse in an emergency is, likewise, pizza, pizza, pizza.”

But, turns out—no! While all that stuff is true, a skier doesn’t have to assume all personal liability before hitting the slopes, and they can sue an Oscar-winning actress turned lifestyle entrepreneur for (allegedly) running into them on her skis. And further, they have absolutely no control over whether that Oscar-winning actress turned lifestyle entrepreneur dresses like a character from House of Gucci come trial time. Which is why, on March 21, Gwyneth Paltrow appeared in a Park City, Utah, courtroom in full Adam Driver cosplay, standing accused by 76-year-old retired optometrist Terry Sanderson of crashing into him on a bunny hill at the ritzy Deer Valley Resort and causing injuries ranging from four broken ribs to brain trauma.

Since the civil trial kicked off on Tuesday, mounting details like Sanderson’s quality of life being hindered by no longer being able to enjoy wine tastings at the hands (feet?) of Paltrow, and Paltrow’s inability to not look annoyed while under fluorescent courtroom lighting have made this one of the richer, whiter trials in quite some time. Add on top of this that Paltrow’s main gig for the past decade has been selling other rich women vagina candles, vagina eggs, and the myth of eternal (vagina) youth on her infamous lifestyle website Goop and this whole “ski-and-run” showdown is all just a little too absurd to not keep your eye on. Rich people are simply going to run each other over on skis and then take each other to court in neck braces—or at least wool turtlenecks that resemble neck braces—because rich people simply don’t know how to not be rich, which makes their trials and tribulations nearly incomprehensible to us normos. Luckily, as a substitute to being rich, I’m just morbidly online—so I’m here to answer some Frequently Asked Questions about Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski-and-run trial, with answers stemming mostly from pictures I’ve seen, tidbits I’ve picked up, and articles I’ve read about local Utah skiing regulations.

Did this crash happen, like, a cool and normal amount of years ago?

No! The ski-and-run in question took place in February 2016. That’s seven years ago. Barack Obama was president. You’d probably never heard the name Timothée Chalamet before. Beyoncé was weeks away from releasing an honest-to-god visual album. Ryan Lochte was out here just making shit up at the Rio Summer Olympics. This ski crash itself not only happened an entire global pandemic ago, but Sanderson first sued Paltrow over it in 2019, seeking $3.1 million—to which a judge said, “Um…” and dismissed a number of Sanderson’s original claims and nixed the “ski-and-run” language (I am bound by no such judge). Currently, Sanderson is suing Paltrow for $300,000 in damages for claims of negligently causing injury.

Do I need to know any niche, local skiing laws to personally decide whether these injuries were caused negligently?

It could help. In 2019, Sanderson originally accused Paltrow of skiing into him from behind, knocking him down, and causing him to sustain four broken ribs, a concussion, and permanent brain damage. Paltrow then countersued for a symbolic $1, agreeing that the crash happened but saying that Sanderson ran into her. And, naturally, it all comes down to that common code of ethics that we all adhere to: the National Ski Areas Association’s Skier Responsibility Code. As I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, the National Ski Areas Association’s Skier Responsibility Code instructs skiers to give people ahead of them the right-of-way, and if a collision occurs, to exchange information; failing to do so can lead to criminal charges. Sanderson’s attorneys also called upon a local Summit County ordinance in 2019 that prohibits “reckless skiing,” and basically boils this whole case down to which skier was farther downhill when the crash happened.

How could Gwyneth Paltrow have sustained zero injuries in this ski collision while admittedly living on the diet of a 16th century peasant?

I have to tell you something terrible. The bone broth that Gwyneth Paltrow recently went viral for centering her diet on actually has a lot of protein in it. So while Paltrow’s bones may be made of moon dust and crushed up dandelions at this point, the muscles around them are probably made of beef juice. Only this can explain why Sanderson and Paltrow both agree that they were in a collision, but only Paltrow came out unscathed and unbothered (see next slide).

How’s Gwyneth presenting herself at trial? Like a relatable person who’s never ski-maimed, and won’t ski-maim again?

Let’s get a few things straight: Every day Gwyneth walks into this eight-day trial, she is doing so with her body dry-brushed within an inch of its life, her blood sugar spiked to a perfectly calibrated level, her brain buzzing off an IV infusion hospitals don’t even know about yet, and a jade egg almost definitely lodged somewhere the sun doesn’t shine …

Does any of that make Gwyneth a sympathetic figure? It does not. But her inability to contort her face into a shape that even resembles someone who has ever pumped gas is verging on camp at this point. And while that’s not necessarily evidence that Gwyneth’s lawyers are correct in their assessment that Sanderson is making a cash grab after a run-in with a celebrity, it is something to feast your eyes upon. And what are lifestyle celebrities and their perfectly drained lymph nodes for, if not that?

Well, is Gwyneth at least appointing herself in a way that suggests she’s innocent?

While standing accused of running down a man on a ski slope, Gwyneth Paltrow has decided to dress exactly like a rich woman who would run down a retired optometrist on a ski slope. Once again, I say: camp. And while her chunky gold jewelry and luxury cream knitwear all add up to the exact look you’d expect from someone being sued over ski negligence …

… Gwyneth’s unfortunate choice of eyewear has, at least on one day of the trial, made her look unmistakably like Jeffrey Dahmer. But also exactly like her mother, Blythe Danner? Or maybe like Blythe Danner dressed up as Jeffrey Dahmer for Halloween (bad idea, Blythe Danner, choose a different direction). But also, kind of like pictures you’ve seen of your grandmother from the ’70s, the ones that make you go, “Whoa, was Nana a badass? When did she stop smoking hand-rolled cigarettes?”

The signature eyewear was a bold choice, to say the least. I’ve seen them repeatedly described as “aviator-style glasses” but really, they’re really more like glasses-style salad plates that have been shaped into an aviator. They are very large—and perhaps just what she needed in 2016 to prevent any (alleged) ski collisions.

What’s this Sanderson guy’s deal? Is this trial making him look cool?

While Sanderson’s claims about the cognitive and behavioral damages he sustained due the 2016 crash are serious, the execution of explaining those damages … continues to be a tough sell. In opening statements, one of his attorneys explained that while Sanderson was a “charming, outgoing, gregarious person” before the crash, “After the crash, he’s no longer charming.” Not only is that very rude, but it basically sounds like this man is no longer capable of calling waiters by their first names.

But the toughest headline for Sanderson’s case has to be: “Gwyneth Paltrow ski crash victim can’t enjoy wine tastings due to injuries, expert says.” And that’s true—an expert did say that! Specifically, neuroradiology specialist Dr. Wendell Gibby said that before the crash, Sanderson had been an active person—“wine tasting, skiing, volunteering”—and after the accident, “he deteriorated abruptly and many of the activities he loved to do, he stopped doing.” Including, of course, those wine tastings. And while that is a sad tale, in the audience, Paltrow sat solemnly drinking a green juice, the sound of gold jewelry tinkling occasionally as she checked her insulin levels on her phone …

Because you simply cannot out-Goop Gwyneth, even if you can (allegedly) ski downhill from her.

Whose side should I be on?

This is a toughie. The evidence presented thus far still mostly boils down to he-said-she-said ski laws: who was skiing farther downhill when the incident occurred, and whether Gwyneth or anyone on her team stopped to see whether Sanderson was OK. Soon, that he-said-she-said could be accented by “and Apple and Brad Falchuk said” (what I would give for Apple to be wearing a tinier pair of Dahmer glasses).

But no matter how the ski evidence shakes out, my suggestion would be to choose yourself—and if you must tie sticks to your feet to fly down a mountain at car speeds on your human legs, at least wrap a couple of pool noodles around your extremities and familiarize yourself with the scent of Gwyneth Paltrow (available for $75 plus shipping) before hitting the slopes.