The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The most uncomfortable moments from Gwyneth Paltrow’s testimony

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)
3 min

The Gwyneth Paltrow trial is not exactly “The Staircase.” No one died in the ski collision at the heart of the case. As the Oscar-winning actress’s defense lawyers tell it, no one was even seriously hurt. And yet, the public has been transfixed by the trial, in which retired optometrist Terry Sanderson is suing Paltrow for upward of $300,000, claiming she plowed into him on a bunny hill in Utah seven years ago and callously skied away, leaving him with cracked ribs and a debilitating brain injury. Paltrow claims that story is largely made up.

The trial is most captivating in its small moments, and arguably the smallest of them came Friday, when Paltrow took the stand in a long navy skirt and Sanderson’s lawyer, Kristin VanOrman, just … couldn’t … get over … how tall she is!

VANORMAN: “May I ask how tall you are?”

PALTROW: “I’m just under 5-10. I think I’m shrinking though.”

VANORMAN: “You and me both. I am so jealous. I have to wear four inch heels just to make it to 5-5.”

PALTROW: “Oh, they’re very nice.”

At trial, Gwyneth Paltrow is dressing for where she’d rather be

VanOrman’s grinny, chuckly banter with the actress — who won an Academy Award for “Shakespeare in Love” and now runs the Goop lifestyle empire — was refreshing, if not a little jarring after three days of dry testimony from medical experts and prickly cross examinations. Some watching the trial on social media even thought VanOrman was representing Paltrow because they seemed so chummy.

VANORMAN: “I’m a mom. I’ve got a couple kids, actually about your age, one of them. Not your age! Your daughter’s age. Sorry, I’m not that old.”

Actually, through her niceties, VanOrman was subtly trying to imply that Paltrow may have been reckless on the slope, perhaps watching her children ski instead of what was in front of her. Maybe she focused so much on Paltrow’s size to support her contention that the crash physically traumatized Sanderson, a man in his 70s. And the lawyer abruptly switched from light chatter to full-on interrogation, though she never came across as unkind.

VANORMAN: “You’re not trained in accident reconstruction.”


VANORMAN [grinning]: “Yeah.”


VANORMAN: “Neither am I.”

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

We won’t attempt to judge the legal merits of VanOrman’s arguments, or predict whether her client will win when the trial concludes, likely next week. But we could argue that in her dialogues with Paltrow, the Utah lawyer stole every scene with awkwardly charming quips like these:

VANORMAN: “I’m assuming, you’re under oath here, that you’re a good tipper!”

VANORMAN: “You’re small but mighty. [Quietly:] Actually you’re not that small.”

The Washington Post reached out to VanOrman for a reaction to her star turn. She apologized and said she’s not allowed to comment until the trial ends. Paltrow’s representatives didn’t immediately get back to us about what she thinks of it all.

Thomas Floyd contributed to this report, which has been updated with more context from the trial.