A retired optometrist from Soda Springs, Idaho, who now lives in Utah, said he had never been in a ski accident before colliding with actor Gwyneth Paltrow in 2016.
The now-76-year-old testified everything was going fine that February day until he heard a "blood-curdling scream" coming down the mountain.
"It's like somebody was out of control and was going to hit a tree and was going to die," he told a Park City jury Monday.
It was the start of a second week in the civil trial involving Paltrow, and Sanderson's attorneys are preparing to rest their case. Paltrow's attorneys, who expressed annoyance at various delays, will begin calling their witnesses to the stand, including Paltrow's children, Moses and Apple — who were with her that day — and Deer Valley Resort employees.
Sanderson, who filed the lawsuit in 2019, is the final witness to be called by his own attorneys. He testified for over an hour Monday, giving often long-winded explanations to simple questions. Though he struggled with anger management, some eyesight loss and other issues prior to the collision, Sanderson provided details of how he believes the crash with Paltrow — whom he believes was skiing errantly and neglectfully — has impacted his life since.
At the time, he said he was an advanced-intermediate skier. It was his first trip to Deer Valley Resort. Sanderson said he was following signs directing him to slow down on the green run and was skiing on the right side — typically used by slower skiers, "Then, boom," he said, clapping his hands together, showing how another skier hit into his back.
"I'm flying, I'm absolutely flying," Sanderson said, noting that he had no control after the impact. Then, he said, he lurched to the right, thinking of possible skiers on his left he was trying to avoid, before falling to the ground.
After losing control and landing "face down in the snow," Sanderson told the court he heard someone yelling at him. He assumed it was a husband or boyfriend of the woman involved in the crash.
"He was really insistent that I was doing something wrong and hit somebody," Sanderson said, adding that the man's voice was the only one he heard. And he remembers whispering, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," out of confusion.
He recalled a resort employee leaving the scene and said he "felt sparks in his brain," like his brain was "on novocaine." He said he tried to ski, but the only witness to the crash, who has been identified as Craig Ramon, told him he had forgotten how to ski and went to get help.
A woman who brought Sanderson down the mountain on a sled told him details about her life, which Sanderson told the court Monday that he recognized as a memory test. The woman is seen in a photo posted at the Meetup link which Sanderson sent to his daughters following the crash. The subject line said "I'm famous," but Sanderson said Monday, he is not the sort of person who would think it is cool to collide with a celebrity. He told his attorney it was an attempt to add levity to the situation.
He later told Paltrow's attorney, Stephen Owens, that the line, "I'm famous," came from "the other personality that's inhabiting my body right now."
Sanderson said he filed the lawsuit because he realized no one believed how serious his injuries were, and he wanted an opportunity to address "insults" that had been added to the ski collision incident and address damages he knew existed.
"I'm here to prove that truth, only with facts," Sanderson said. He said he "absolutely" did not cause the collision.
Sanderson held a press conference several years ago in order to try to find someone with video footage of that day that could prove what happened. No video of the incident has ever surfaced.
Sanderson talked about multiple relationships with friends and family that have suffered since the collision, including the end of a two-year relationship with a woman who testified on the first day of the trial. The man teared up a few times during his testimony, talking about his daughters, his former girlfriend and the woman who helped him off the slope the day of the collision.
He testified, after a question about anger issues, that he now has a much wider range of temperament and said he stays home 90% of the time.
Sanderson said he is a "self-imposed recluse" and does not have the same spark or enjoyment when going places. He testified that although he still travels, he does not travel alone because he does not trust his memory, and has a leg that seems to have a mind of its own. He said he tried to ski a few times after the incident, but gradually gave it up — a significant change from hitting the slopes two or three times a week prior to the collision.
Despite these issues, Sanderson said he is still in denial about his brain issues, and he did everything he could to address his health within the critical time that brain injuries can be treated.
"I don't want to have brain issues," he told the court.
Deer Valley employees testify
Eric Christiansen, a ski instructor for Paltrow's son on the day of the incident, said he saw Sanderson coming from behind shortly before the collision, noticed that he was skiing from one edge of the run to the other, and had strong skiing skills — but because he was making giant slalom turns and moving fast, Christiansen was watching Sanderson as a precaution since he was aiding an inexperienced skier.
Paltrow on the other hand was making short-radius turns and sticking to one edge of the run, the instructor said.
Christiansen said he looked away from Sanderson briefly, while Sanderson was uphill from Paltrow, to look at Paltrow's son Moses when he heard the scream and looked back to see both Sanderson and Paltrow on the ground. He said Paltrow was on top, and they were on their backs, with their skis below them.
"It would be very difficult to be underneath her if he hadn't hit her from behind," Christiansen said.
Christiansen said Sanderson was not very talkative at the time, but he did not say anything indicating he believed Paltrow had hit him.
Christiansen said he helped Paltrow and Sanderson take off their skis — and that the skis would likely have come off if they had fallen forward and not backward. He also said he was the last one to put back on his skis and leave the scene.
He said in an accident report filed shortly after the collision that Sanderson reported Paltrow "appeared right in front of him." Sanderson, however, denied making that comment during his Monday testimony.
Christiansen said no one was unconscious after the collision, which contradicted testimony by Sanderson and Ramon. The instructor also said claims that he was shouting at Sanderson afterward were false.
Whitney Smith, the ski patroller who eventually helped Sanderson off the hill, said she met Sanderson and Ramon at a lower point in the run after they had decided Sanderson shouldn't ski down. She said Sanderson told her he was hit in the back, and Ramon said it was Gwyneth Paltrow.
She testified on Tuesday that Sanderson passed tests she gave him to check for brain issues and said neither man reported that he had been unconscious or she would have called an ambulance.
Sanderson is still expected to be called back to the stand later this week by Paltrow's attorneys. Owens said their experts plan to argue that the deterioration in his health is due to progressive aging, and is not directly tied to the incident. Paltrow was shaking her head during Sanderson's testimony Monday, as he recounted his seemingly vivid memories of the crash.
She testified Friday that she was actually the one who was hit from behind by Sanderson. She said she feels bad for Sanderson and the injuries he suffered, but insists she is not to blame.
"Mr. Sanderson categorically hit me on that ski slope, and that is the truth," Paltrow said Friday.
She said two skis went between her skis, forcing her legs apart, and after moving together for "a few good seconds," his body was pressing against her — like they were "spooning," with his body against her back. She said her initial reaction in the confusion of the collision was that someone was sexually assaulting her.
"There was a body pressing against me and there was a very strange grunting noise. So my brain was trying to make sense of what was happening. I thought, 'Am I, is this a practical joke? Is someone like doing something perverted? This is really, really strange. My mind was going very, very quickly and I was trying to ascertain what was happening."
Sanderson's complaint states he suffered a brain injury, four broken ribs and other serious injuries because of the collision with Paltrow, including "pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress and disfigurement." He initially asked for $3.1 million but a judge dismissed his claims that she left the scene of the accident.
An amended claim seeks $300,000 from Paltrow for damages.
In a countersuit, Paltrow is seeking $1, in addition to attorney fees, for compensatory damages.
The trial is scheduled to wrap up Thursday.