Celebrity court cases like the recent Gwyneth Paltrow ski crash trial generate major media attention. But they can also highlight legal issues, such as the use of expert witness testimony, that arise in everyday lawsuits.
Paltrow’s defense team relied heavily on expert testimony, a strategy that proved successful for the actress. The strategy was not without risks, though. In the hands of a less competent legal team, it may have backfired. But Paltrow prevailed in the suit, with the jury unanimously finding her not at fault for the accident.
Issues Raised in the Paltrow Injury Lawsuit
In 2016, a ski collision occurred between Paltrow and a retired optometrist, Terry Sanderson, at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah.
Sanderson sued Paltrow for $300,000, accusing her of skiing out of control and crashing into him. He claimed the crash caused him serious injuries, including a life-changing traumatic brain injury. Paltrow said Sanderson caused the crash, exaggerated his injuries, and was attempting to exploit her celebrity and wealth. She countersued for $1.
The case was a classic “he-said, she-said” matter. It captivated the public and was one of the most-viewed celebrity court battles ever broadcast. Viewers were drawn into obscure topics involving skiing rules, the laws of physics, and brain science. And on all fronts, Paltrow’s defense leaned on experts to prove the actress’s case.
How Paltrow’s Team Used Expert Witness Testimony
Some of the experts called by Paltrow’s attorneys to testify on her behalf included:
- Artists to render advanced animations of how the crash allegedly occurred.
- A biomechanical engineer to explain that the accident was consistent with the laws of physics.
- Doctors to present radiological evidence allegedly showing Sandersons’ cognitive decline predated the accident.
- Ski instructors and ski patrol from Deer Valley Resort.
Sanderson’s team called expert witnesses as well. They tried to persuade jurors Paltrow violated ski resort conduct policies and that Sanderson suffered permanent brain damage from the collision.
The jury listened to the opposing evidence. At the conclusion of the eight-day trial, they vindicated Paltrow’s version of events with an 8-0 verdict in her favor—and the $1 award she sought.
But Sanderson may end up paying far more than that. Under Utah law, he could be ordered to pay Paltrow’s attorneys’ fees, which experts estimate may run $500,000 to $1 million. However, Sanderson might, ironically, owe nothing to his own attorneys, since they were likely working on contingency fees.
Vindication for Paltrow and Her Legal Team
Hiring expert witnesses is not cheap. Some of the experts used by Paltrow’s defense team were paid more than $10,000.
In relying on expert witness testimony to prove her case, the Paltrow lawyers were taking a calculated risk. Getting bogged down in the minutiae of topics like physics and neuropsychology could have confused the jury. The experts might have come off as not believable or paid off by Paltrow and not credible. And there’s no guarantee that cross-examination by Sanderson’s lawyers wouldn’t have undermined the experts’ testimony.
It would have been cheaper for Paltrow to pay the $300,000 rather than incur upwards of a million dollars in legal fees. But her lawyers knew the power experts can have on the stand, and their gamble paid off.
Good Lawyers Know How to Build and Present a Case
Many lawsuits come down to one person’s story against another’s. As in the Paltrow case, there may be no definitive evidence of the incident in question. And while we may never know exactly what happened on the slopes that fateful day, Paltrow ultimately has her attorneys to thank for her legal victory.
Good lawyers understand the importance of attention to detail and the way in which details come together to tell a convincing story. Lawsuits are decided on the legal merits. But somebody can be in the right and still lose their case based on poor decisions their attorneys make behind-the-scenes. Cases are also won due to superior legal strategy.
Graham Law has been Your Personal Injury Firm in Southeastern Ohio since 1923. Our attorneys are constantly honing their craft so we can best serve the people of our community. We handle most cases on a contingency basis, including all personal injury, social security, and workers’ compensation cases. Contact our Zanesville personal injury attorneys today.
By accepting these cases on a contingency, we are invested in your success. In some cases, we may also be able to recover attorneys’ fees for our clients. To discuss your legal matter during a free case review, call 1-800-621-8585 or Contact Us.