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Gwyneth Paltrow testifies that she was confused, then angry, after ski accident

Terry Sanderson's attorney Kristin VanOrman questioned Gwyneth Paltrow on March 24 in Park City, Utah, during her trial over a 2016 skiing incident. (Video: The Washington Post)
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The Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow, facing a lawsuit from a retired optometrist who says she skied into him on a beginner’s slope in Utah seven years ago, testified Friday that he actually hit her in a bizarre incident that left her confused, then angry.

“Mr. Sanderson skied directly into my back,” the founder of the lifestyle and wellness brand Goop said shortly after attorneys for the plaintiff, Terry Sanderson, called her to the stand. “I froze and got very upset a couple seconds later,” she added. “There was a sort of groan coming out of his mouth.”

Sanderson, 76, claims Paltrow, 50, hit him from behind on Feb. 26, 2016, while he was skiing down the beginner’s slope at the Deer Valley Resort in Park City, leaving him with fractured ribs and sustained brain damage. Sanderson initially sued the actress for $3 million in 2019, but dropped the claim to “more than $300,000” after a judge tossed his initial claim, according to the Associated Press. Paltrow has filed a symbolic counterclaim, seeking $1 and money to cover attorney fees.

A jury is expected to decide whether she was at fault when the trial concludes next week.

The most uncomfortable moments from Gwyneth Paltrow’s testimony

Earlier in the week, one of Sanderson’s attorneys, Lawrence Buhler, said Paltrow had turned around “to look at her children” when she screamed and crashed into Sanderson. The retiree wound up “facedown in the snow, unconscious,” according to Buhler, who said Paltrow quickly skied away. Sanderson received medical attention for a concussion and broken ribs.

Paltrow gave a very different account of the collision on Friday. She said she was skiing down the hill when Sanderson smacked into her from behind.

“I was confused at first and didn’t know exactly what was happening,” Paltrow testified, recalling the moment Sanderson’s skis appeared between her own and she felt a body pressing into her. “I thought, ‘Is this a practical joke? Is someone doing something perverted? This is really, really strange.’ My mind was going very, very quickly and I was trying to ascertain what was happening.”

Seconds later, she testified, the pair both toppled to the ground, their skis entangled.

“I remember pushing away because I was very upset,” Paltrow said. “I pushed down the hill and I turned around and yelled at him … I said, ‘You skied directly into my effing back,’ and he said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’” She apologized to the lawyer for her “bad language.”

A lawyer at one point suggested that Sanderson, who is expected to testify later in the trial, be brought out so he and Paltrow could reenact the scene. The judge sustained an objection.

The case has garnered national attention, with online critics opining on Paltrow’s attire and the opposing lawyer bantering with the celebrity on the stand.

After Paltrow was sworn in, Sanderson’s lawyer, Kristin VanOrman, said, “I have a feeling that everybody in the courtroom knows who you are.”

At one point VanOrman asked Paltrow how tall she is.

“I’m just under 5’10,” the actress responded.

“I am so jealous … I have to wear four inch heels just to make it to 5’5,” Van Orman said.

“Oh they are very nice,” Paltrow said.

Paltrow was sans glasses, though she asked for reading glasses to read a document, and wore a minimal navy button-down maxi dress.

Following the collision, Paltrow said she skied down and met her children, her then-boyfriend Brad Falchuk — now her husband — and his two children for lunch. She said the kids were all around the same ages and referred to her group as being the modern-day “Brady Bunch.” She said her right knee felt overstretched and she experienced back pain. She went to get a massage later in the day but did not seek medical attention.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski accident trial has begun. Here’s what to know.

Earlier, Buhler said Paltrow’s “neglect, her choices and her disregard for other people on the mountain” all contributed to the life-changing brain injury Sanderson sustained.

“Before this crash, Terry was an outgoing, charming, gregarious person,” the attorney said. “But after the crash, he’s no longer charming.”

Paltrow’s lawyers have argued that any decline in Sanderson’s health is unrelated to the crash. They also contend that, far from being knocked unconscious, Sanderson assured members of Paltrow’s party that he was okay and even waved away a ski patrol that stopped to check on him before later requesting help.

“I feel very sorry for him," Paltrow said. “It seems like he’s had a very difficult life, but I did not cause the accident so I cannot be at fault for anything that subsequently happened to him,” she testified.

Before Paltrow took the stand, her attorney Stephen Owens suggested that Sanderson had exhibited aggressive behavior before the accident. While cross-examining Sanderson’s daughter, Shae Hareth, Owen pointed out inconsistencies between her deposition and her testimony on Friday, claiming that she had previously expressed surprise at her father seeking a sum as high as $3 million in his legal action against Paltrow.

The actress’s husband and children are expected to testify next week, as is Sanderson.

Paltrow, the daughter of actress Blythe Danner and producer-director Bruce Paltrow, rose to fame in the 1990s with films such as “Sliding Doors” and “Shakespeare in Love.” She won an Academy Award in 1999 for the latter role, and landed an Emmy more than a decade later for guest-starring in the television series “Glee.” These days, she is known for her oft-mocked wellness company, Goop.

Anumita Kaur and Brittany Shammas contributed to this breaking news story, which will be updated.