PARK CITY, Utah (KTVX) — The lawsuit between a Utah man, Terry Sanderson, and actress Gwyneth Paltrow entered day three on Thursday.
Sanderson is suing Paltrow for over $300,000 and accuses the “Royal Tenenbaums” actress of severely injuring him in a 2016 collision at Deer Valley Resort. Sanderson claims Paltrow was skiing recklessly, but Paltrow says it was Sanderson who caused the crash. She’s countersuing him for $1 and the reimbursement of her attorney fees.
On Thursday, the jury heard the testimony from Sanderson’s daughter, Polly Sanderson Grasham, a neuropsychologist who helped Sanderson, and a bioengineer who reviewed Sanderson’s injuries.
Missing GoPro footage?
Gwyneth Paltrow’s attorneys asked Sanderson’s daughter about missing GoPro camera footage that they called “the most important piece of evidence” at trial Thursday.
Steve Owens, Paltrow’s attorney, asked Grasham about emails exchanged with her father about the mysterious footage and the possibility that the lawsuit was filed against Paltrow because she was famous.
The GoPro footage has not been found or included as evidence for the trial.
“I’m famous … At what cost?” Terry Sanderson, the 76-year-old retired optometrist suing Paltrow, wrote in the subject line of an email to his family after the crash.
Paltrow has previously called the lawsuit an attempt to exploit her fame and celebrity. On Thursday, Owens, her lead counsel, asked Grasham why her father sent messages about his newfound fame.
“It matches his personality a little bit, making light of a serious situation,” Grasham said of the email.
Neuropsychologist describes Sanderson’s state of mind
The jury also heard pre-recorded video testimony from Dr. Alina Fong, the neuropsychologist who took Sanderson on as a patient a year and a half after the collision. Fong said she works extensively with concussion patients and patients experiencing post-concussion syndrome, having opened clinics for the treatment and worked with Utah-based Intermountain Health.
Opening her testimony, Dr. Fong was questioned by Sanderson’s attorney, Lawrence Buhler. During the questioning, Dr. Fong said Sanderson self-reported his symptoms to her, which she said was common.
According to Fong, Sanderson had reported feeling tired, and moody, having personality changes, and experiencing pain. She told Buhler that she knew of Sanderson’s previous diagnosis of anxiety and depression, saying prior mental health history can be a big risk factor that can lead to a complicated recovery.
“[Sanderson] came to my clinic about 2017, a little under six years ago,” said Fong. “He worked so hard, he gave his best efforts and we noticed some definite improvements. Talking to him now, it is showing clearly that he is still struggling.”
Fong described herself as an optimist, saying while she still had some hope, she did worry that some of the issues she noted Sanderson having as being longstanding.
Fong said Sanderson had a very extensive and very targeted treatment including 32 hours of cognitive, speech, occupational, and physical therapies among others. She recommended he gets into a routine, stay hydrated, and get back to doing the things he loved to do such as traveling.
Before being cross-examined by Paltrow’s attorneys, Fong said the opinions from the defense experts were easily refutable with some online research, particularly on the CDC website. She also said there was a big difference between looking at someone’s chart and actually working with a patient in person.
Paltrow’s attorney, James Egan, asked Fong how she could be certain Sanderson’s symptoms were related to post-concussion syndrome and not aging or because of ongoing prior conditions. Fong replied saying she was basing her diagnosis off her 18 years of experience.
Egan asked Fong if she had reviewed Sanderson’s medical records prior to which she said she did not. Paltrow’s attorney then asked if Fong knew there was pending litigation regarding Sanderson’s injury and if so, why would she not thoroughly review medical records in order to be fully informed and factual.
Fong told the defense she was a very busy person and deals with many clients all with the possibility of litigation. She said she did not have the time to pour over every single medical record.
Fong continued answering the defense’s questions saying she was unaware of an MRI done in 2019 and that she was not aware of any vision or hearing problems or that Sanderson told his primary care physician that he was “getting old.” Fong said that it was relevant, however, as she treated Sanderson like she would with any other patient, based off what he reported he was struggling with.
Egan asked Fong to confirm that she had done nothing to scientifically rule that prior medical issues were not the cause of the abnormalities. She refuted that that was not her job and continued saying having prior conditions as well as post-concussion syndrome is not mutually exclusive.
Sanderson’s daughter testifies about her father’s state of mind
Following Dr. Fong’s pre-recorded testimony, Terry Sanderson’s daughter, Polly Sanderson Grasham, 49, was sworn to the stand.
Robert Sykes, an attorney representing Sanderson, asked her about her relationship with her father and asked her to describe how Sanderson was before the accident.
Grasham said she would see her father two or three times a year for about a week at a time, making time to meet up for the holidays. Prior to the crash, Grasham described Sanderson as “a goer.” She said he was an extrovert, enjoyed people, and dancing, was generally engaging, and was a very positive person.
“[We] just enjoyed our time together,” said Grasham. “Cooking dinner, spent a lot of time outdoors, going for walks, bicycle rides, hikes. We hadn’t gone skiing in the last couple of years, that was an activity we did together.”
She also told the defense that Sanderson did have vision issues and had a hard time with depth perception. Because of this, she said he would be careful while on the slopes and would ultimately say he was an “advanced to expert” skier.
She said she felt like she became aware of the accident the evening it happened. She said she learned that he “got his bell rung” but did not immediately know that Gwyneth Paltrow was involved. She said after the crash, that she would text and call him every couple of weeks but didn’t see him again until the following May.
“There was a time, where he was sitting in a chair by the window in Idaho and I almost expected drool to be coming out of his mouth,” said Grasham. “First of all, he wasn’t engaged with anybody. That was my first real slap in the face felt that there was something terribly wrong.”
Paltrow’s attorney, Steve Owens, began his cross-examination of Grasham by asking questions regarding Sanderson’s character. He asked if Sanderson had been obsessed with the incident and the trial to which Grasham said he was. She allegedly had told her father to not let this consume him.
Owens then began asking Grasham about Sanderson’s relationship with his three daughters, specifically his youngest daughter, Jenny. He asked if she would agree that Sanderson would get frequently frustrated if his expectations were not met and if he had a strong emphasis on discipline with Jenny. Grasham agreed to both.
Grasham argued saying the two could have had different experiences with the same event, saying what she did not see as emotionally or physically abusive, could have been that way to her sister.
Owens asked about the trips Sanderson took after the injury, confirming with Grasham that he went to multiple countries in Europe, and zip-lined in Costa Rica, Peru, Morocco, the Canary Islands, and Thailand. Owens then asked, “Is it fair to say his travels did not suffer as a result of the accident?” For which she responded, “His travel companions might have suffered.”
Grasham was also interrogated about her youngest sister Jenny’s relationship with their father. Jenny is not expected to testify, as Utah allows children to exclude themselves from testifying against a parent.
Bioengineer reviews Sanderson’s injuries
After Grasham’s testimony ended, bioengineer Dr. Richard Boehme was called to the stand via video as an expert witness for neurology on behalf of Sanderson.
Boehme said Sanderson’s injuries — both his traumatic brain injury (TBI) and rib fractures came from Sanderson striking the ground. Boehme said Sanderson’s fall is consistent with being struck from behind and from his left side, causing his “center of gravity” to shift and throwing Sanderson to the ground on his right side.
When Sykes directly asked Boehme if the injuries indicate Sanderson was hit from behind, Boehme replied, “Yes, it does.”
Boehme said symptoms from concussion injuries generally resolve themselves within a year. However, in his experience, around 5% of patients can have permanent issues from a single concussion.
As far as rib fractures go, Boehme testified that “only one scenario” can account for Sanderson’s injury — Paltrow striking Sanderson. Boehme said he considered other scenarios, but none of them would have resulted in rib fractures other than Paltrow striking Sanderson. Had the opposite occurred, he would not have landed beneath Paltrow. Since a fall to the ground can happen within a second, Sanderson would have had to have rotated and fallen to the ground at an improbable speed. He noted that Paltrow would have had worse injuries of her own if Sanderson had struck her.
It should be noted, however, that Boehme did not treat Sanderson directly and was not on the scene at the time of the crash.
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‘Skiers Responsibility Code’
The first two days of trial featured attorneys arguing about whether Sanderson or Paltrow was further down the slope during the collision — a disagreement rooted in a “Skiers Responsibility Code” that gives the skier who is downhill the right of way.
Sanderson’s attorneys and expert medical witnesses described how his injuries were likely caused by someone crashing into him from behind. They attributed noticeable changes in Sanderson’s mental acuity to injuries from that day.
Paltrow’s attorneys have tried to represent Sanderson as a 76-year-old whose decline followed a normal course of aging rather than the results of a crash.
They have not yet called witnesses of their own to testify, but in opening statements previewed for jurors that they plan to call Paltrow’s husband Brad Falchuk and her two children, Moses and Apple, to the stand next week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.