Gwyneth Paltrow’s lawyer painted an unflattering picture of the retired eye doctor suing his Academy Award-winning client during opening statements in a Utah courtroom on Tuesday.
Terry Sanderson, 76, is suing the “Emma” actress over a 2016 ski crash. Both sides claim the other was responsible.
While Paltrow says the skirmish caused by Sanderson upset her and left her with only minor injuries, Sanderson claims that Paltrow’s negligence on the slopes left him with such severe brain injuries that his personality and demeanor changed after the accident.
Paltrow’s lead defense attorney Stephen Owens ridiculed Sanderson’s claims before the eight-person jury in Park City, Utah.
“Let me suggest that that sword is being used to defend a meritless claim,” the defense attorney said during an extended metaphor using an image of Justice holding a sword. “A false allegation. Really kind of an offensive one. That she somehow left him, an unconscious man, and bolted. And, it’s, it’s – I can tell you, we believe it to be utter B.S.”
At that point, the plaintiff’s attorney Robert Sykes objected because the defendant was arguing.
Third District Court Judge Kent Holmberg sustained the objection.
Gwyneth Paltrow ski crash trial likely to be anything but simple, legal experts say
But Owens wasn’t quite done tearing into the defendant.
“You should pay attention more to the records before someone’s thinking ‘lawsuit’ than the records after someone’s thinking ‘lawsuit,'” Paltrow’s attorney said to another sustained objection.
Owens recreated the ski crash as the defendant sees it, casting the incident squarely Sanderson’s fault and suggesting that his client was so angry she “might have said the F word.”
Paltrow’s attorney also tried to color jurors’ impressions of the witnesses the former eye doctor marshaled.
“You’re gonna hear from some daughters,” Owens said. “He has three daughters. He’s on the outs with that [third] daughter. She paints a not-great story about him before the ski accident.”
The defense attorney told jurors they would spend a lot of time hearing bad things no one in the room wanted to hear – but insisted he had a “lawyer” obligation to defend his client with “what’s true.”
“If a 75-year-old man says, ‘I don’t think as well as I used to. My brain doesn’t work as well as I used to. I forget things,’ we have to – which is why we’re all here – we have to go back and look at these things,” Owens said. “If he says my relationships were harmed by Gwyneth, we have to go back – it’s kind of a deep dive – and say, ‘What were your relationships like before this?'”
Paltrow’s attorney then conceded that Sanderson has, in recent years, had some confusion issues, “strained relationships,” and memory loss – but he argued that those issues were due to the natural course of aging and the plaintiff’s “pre-existing problems.”
Returning to the incident’s immediate aftermath, Owens noted that Sanderson liked to use social media.
“So, he’s a poster,” the attorney said, briefly waving his hands. “Big on Facebook. So, there are a lot of pictures of him.”
Paltrow’s side argued that all those pictures would help understand the plaintiff during the trial.
“What does he post to his daughters?” Owens asked before miming the act of typing and pausing for a beat: “‘I’m famous…'”
Owens went on: “He doesn’t post: ‘I’m hurt’ He doesn’t post goobledy-gok, is that the right word? Confusion stuff.”
The attorney then showed jurors the “post” was an email from Sanderson to his daughters sent at 8 p.m. on the night of the crash.
The plaintiff’s side repeatedly objected to numerous other lines by Owen – many of them being sustained. At one point, the defendant’s attorney asked Sanderson’s attorney to keep his interruptions to a minimum.
This request prompted a quick rebuke from the judge, who said some of the objections had been valid. A short sidebar was then called to hash things out. After that, things calmed down, but the plaintiff’s side repeatedly objected later on, winning some and losing some. Owens said he didn’t think the objections were appropriate, and another sidebar was called.
At one point, Owens said Sanderson posted a “very happy, smiling picture” of himself being taken down the slope after the crash.
“His memories of the case get better over the years,” Owens said after the first sidebar. “That’s all I’m gonna say about that. That’s not how memory works.”
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