Oscar winner and lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow seems incapable of staying out of the limelight. Recently, the A-list actress’s skiing accident from seven years ago captured national attention and resulted in an avalanche of legal opinions, a ton of memes, and viral clips from the injury lawsuit that went to trial. For about three weeks, we were on the edge of our seats awaiting the outcome of the hit-and-run ski crash hearing, not only because we wanted to see justice served, but because the trial played out like a prestige courtroom drama.
Now, the jury is out: Gwyneth Paltrow is innocent. Was she ever at fault to begin with?
Who was telling the truth, the optometrist or the professional actor?
In 2016, retired optometrist Terry Sanderson, who is 76 years old, claimed that Ms. Paltrow crashed into him on a beginner's run at Deer Valley Resort in Utah. However, the Oscar winner didn't go down without a fight. She testified in court that Mr. Sanderson actually crashed into her, and she described feeling confused and then angry.
Mr. Sanderson's attorney said that the actress screamed and collided with him as she turned around to check on her kids. Poor Mr. Sanderson also allegedly ended up facedown in the snow. The optometrist’s team alleged that Ms. Paltrow skied away quickly, leaving him behind.
It would appear that Mr. Sanderson didn’t just lose his cool but also suffered fractured ribs and brain damage. He originally sued the actress for $3 million in damages, but later reduced that amount to just over $300,000 after a judge dismissed his initial claim. Ms. Paltrow then filed a counterclaim for $1 and attorney fees. She and her team alleged that his injuries predate the incident and claimed that his lawsuit is simply an attempt to cash in on her fame.
But who to believe? In any case, it sure sounds like a collision straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Inquiring minds want to know
As the Gwyneth Paltrow skiing trial unfolded, people were left with some pressing legal questions. Who crashed into whom? Can celebrity status be used as a valid defense in a courtroom? Whose testimony is more trustworthy, the professional actor’s or the optometrist’s?
During the trial, there were so many questions, one more seemingly nonsensical than the next. The actress was asked whether she was friends with Taylor Swift (they are but they don’t talk very often), about the thousands of dollars she spends on her kids’ skiing training, and about how tall she was.
Online spectators, on the other hand, had queries about her outfit choices (one tweet read: “Gwyneth Paltrow looks like she’s on trial in 1987 for hiring a hitman to kill her husband”). Some people were also curious as to whether Mr. Sanderson’s lawyer Kristin VanOrman was trying to banter with the actress. Was she perhaps a fan of Gwynnie’s Goop lifestyle brand?
There were also questions as to why the actress and her team allowed the case to go to trial instead of settling and why her counterclaim was only for a dollar.
The symbolic $1 is more than just spare change for celebs
Ms. Paltrow may occasionally incur the ire of the general public simply because she’s rich, attractive, and famous. But regardless of how you feel about her, she is a woman who could get away with almost anything, including suing an average Joe for a symbolic $1 for causing her grief and winning.
This begs the question: why do celebrities do such a thing? We’re glad you asked.
When a celebrity sues or countersues for a symbolic $1, it's often for the purpose of making a statement rather than for financial gain. In Ms. Paltrow's case, the victory of being awarded even a tiny amount (i.e., $1) in a legal battle can send a message that she is not to be messed with. It can also serve as a warning to others who might consider crossing her in the future.
Similarly, Taylor Swift countersued a man who sued her for defamation, claiming that she had falsely accused him of groping her. Ms. Swift countersued for $1 because her goal was not to collect money but to hold the man accountable for his actions and to send a message that she would not be intimidated by baseless lawsuits.
In short, when celebrities sue or countersue for a symbolic $1, it's often a strategic move designed to make a statement and protect their reputation, rather than a quest for financial compensation. Actress, mother, and scented candle connoisseur Goop Paltrow may be a lot of things, but in this instance, she is innocent and deserves a whole day of skiing in peace.
Related reading: Slip-and-fall personal injury lawsuits: A guide to getting what you deserve
Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams are the attorneys to call for your personal injury case in Washington State. Call our law offices in Renton today.