Gwyneth Paltrow's ski collision trial spawns memes and intrigue

The trial over a 2016 ski collision at a luxury Utah resort has drawn worldwide attention, and sparked memes and debate about skiing etiquette

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When two skiers collided on a beginners' run at an upscale Utah ski resort, who knew it would become the subject of a closely watched celebrity trial?

But Gwyneth Paltrow's trial over a 2016 collision with a 76-year-old retired optometrist in Park City is the biggest celebrity court case since Johnny Depp and Amber Heard — spawning memes, and sparking debate about the burden of fame and ski etiquette.

As lawyers plod through questioning their final witnesses on Wednesday and prepare for closing arguments on Thursday, here is a look back at highlights from the two-week trial:

Lifestyles of the rich and famous

For seven days, lawyers have both highlighted — and played down — Paltrow and Mr Sanderson’s extravagant lifestyles.

The actress's legal team has tried to represent him as an angry, ageing man who continued to travel internationally and go wine-tasting after the collision.

Mr Sanderson’s attorneys have questioned Paltrow about the $8,890 bill for private ski instructors — one for each child — and her decision to leave the slope after the crash to get a massage.

Mr Sanderson's lawyers are asking for more than $300,000 in damages.

Although the amount remains undecided, the money at stake for both sides pales in comparison to the typical legal costs of a multiyear lawsuit.

Both sides have called on brigades of expert witnesses, including a biomechanical engineer and accident reconstructionist.

To keep jurors engaged through hours of jargon-heavy testimony, Paltrow’s team has shared a series of advanced, high-resolution animations of the collision.


Lawyers on both sides have tapped into the power of celebrity to make their cases that reputations and moral principles are what's at stake in the trial.

Mr Sanderson's side has tried to characterise the actress-turned-lifestyle influencer as clumsy, out-of-touch, and evading accountability.

They likened her decision to file a $1 countersuit to Taylor Swift, who filed a similar counterclaim in 2017 — which drew attention to Paltrow's testimony that she was "not good friends" with Swift but just "friendly”.

Paltrow's defence team has called the lawsuit an attempt to exploit her fame, and suggested that she's vulnerable to unfair, frivolous lawsuits.

They have questioned witnesses about Mr Sanderson's “obsession” with the case and homed in on an email subject line in which he wrote “I'm famous."

“To become famous, he will lie,” one of his lawyers said.

Meme fodder

The trial has tested the jury’s endurance as its eight members have gradually sunk deeper into their chairs through hours of expert-witness testimony.

It has amused spectators worldwide, become late-night TV fodder and fed the internet’s insatiable appetite for memes.

Viewers tuning into proceedings on CourtTV have seen Paltrow complain about losing a half day of skiing after the crash, spawning comparisons to The White Lotus.

Photographs of Paltrow entering and exiting the courtroom — often shielding her face with a blue GP-initialled notebook — have gone viral on social media.

Snow White

The proceedings have drawn the world's attention to Park City, Utah, where the Sundance Film Festival takes place.

The jury and local residents nodded along as attorneys have made reference to local landmarks like The Montage at Deer Valley, where Paltrow got a massage after the crash.

The all-white jury responsible for deciding on the lawsuit is drawn from registered voters in Summit County, where the average home sold for $1.3 million last month.

Unlike the high-powered, Hollywood lawyers that become household names at celebrity trials, both sides are represented by locals.

Paltrow's team specialises in medical malpractice suits, while Mr Sanderson's lead counsel, "country lawyer" Bob Sykes, is known in Salt Lake City for his work suing police departments.


The intrigue of "missing GoPro footage" has tongues a-twitter.

Paltrow's attorneys teased that incident was potentially captured on a helmet-cam video, although no footage has been included as evidence in the trial.

Mr Sanderson’s daughter testified this week that an email she sent on the day of an accident referring to the GoPro did not imply that footage existed.

Internet sleuths following the trial later found and sent lawyers the link included in the email.

Rather than revealing GoPro footage, it contained a chatroom discussion between members of Mr Sanderson's ski group, including the man claiming to be the sole eyewitness who testified that Paltrow crashed into Mr Sanderson.

Updated: March 30, 2023, 12:40 AM