The Gwyneth Paltrow Lawsuit against Dr. Terry Sanderson
Get the latest scoop on the Gwyneth Paltrow lawsuit against Dr. Terry Sanderson, and why the doctor might have to pay her legal fees.
Dr. Terry Sanderson sued Gwyneth Paltrow for $300,000 in damages, stating that the actress was to blame in a 2016 skiing collision on a beginner run at a Utah ski resort. Paltrow countersued for $1 plus legal fees. She has maintained that Sanderson was the culprit in the collision. She stated that the lawsuit was a “meritless claim” and an “attempt to exploit her celebrity and wealth.”
Note: In his final ruling, Judge Kent Holmberg of the Utah District Court determined that Sanderson will not be required to cover Paltrow's fees, as per a prior agreement between the attorneys representing both parties.
When $1 Isn’t Enough
On March 31, 2023, the jury found that Gwyneth Paltrow was not at fault. She was awarded the token $1. As of today, the judge who presided over the trial has not decided if she will be awarded attorney’s fees.
Of course, if she is awarded them, I know why. Obviously, the judge believed that Dr. Sanderson was a fake. This answer might be obvious to you, too, but I thought I would write about it in a little more depth why she was awarded attorney’s fees.
Hiring an attorney is not cheap, and being a defendant in a lawsuit is sometimes even more expensive than being the plaintiff. That’s because a lot of attorneys takes cases on contingency, or for a percentage of the winning amount. If the plaintiff doesn’t win, then no attorney’s fees.
Contingency fees happen quite a bit in tort cases. Torts are where people sue each other (or companies) when the defendant (the person being sued) injured or harmed the plaintiff (the person who got injured).
There are a bunch of rules about torts, the first one being the tort must be a tort, and the second that the tort must have caused damages.
So let’s talk about the first rule, that a tort must be a tort. If a tort is that the defendant injured or harmed the plaintiff, then the first rule means that the defendant must have injured or harmed the plaintiff in some way. Did you get into a car accident where the other driver was at fault? Did a doctor perform a surgery wrong? Did someone’s dog bite you? These are all torts.
In Sanderson v. Paltrow, Dr. Sanderson accused Ms. Paltrow of hurting him on the ski slope. Of course, we know the result, that the jury decided she didn’t. But the ski slope accident was the basis of the tort that the lawsuit was about.
And she won her $1. That means that the jury decided:
- Gwen-Gwen was not at fault for Dr. Sanderson’s injuries; AND
- Dr. Sanderson was at fault for Gwen’s injuries.
That’s an important distinction, there, and worth repeating: Gwyneth was not at fault, and Dr. Sanderson was.
So let’s talk about the attorney’s fees. In most cases, a party can only recover attorney’s fees if two prongs are met:
- That party is successful in the litigation (is the winner, or partially the winner); or
- A statute or contract allows for attorney’s fees.
Each party paying their respective attorney’s fees is the American payment system, but we do have exceptions. Copyright is one of the bigger exceptions because it’s written into the statute. Divorce laws often have some kind of attorney’s fees provision, too, to protect the spouse who may be at a severe legal disadvantage in the divorce.
In Utah law … actually, in almost all the states, if not all the states … there is a third way to get attorney’s fees.
It’s what I call the D-Bag Method. That’s because you get attorney’s fees when the other party is being a D-Bag.
There are several different ways for this to happen. In that divorce case that I mentioned, one spouse could get attorney’s fees if the other spouse plays games with the litigation. Or you could go through a criminal trial and later find out that the police and/or prosecution did all of that for another reason (like, a personal vendetta). The second instance is called malicious prosecution, btw.
The third way is what happened here. One of the parties called “bad faith.”
In Utah, that’s encoded in 78B-5-825.
78B-5-825. Attorney fees -- Award where action or defense in bad faith -- Exceptions.
(1) In civil actions, the court shall award reasonable attorney fees to a prevailing party if the court determines that the action or defense to the action was without merit and not brought or asserted in good faith, except under Subsection (2).
(2) The court, in the court's discretion, may award no fees or limited fees against a party under Subsection (1), but only if the court:
~~~~~ (a)finds the party has filed an affidavit of indigency under Section 78A-2-302 in the action before the court; or
~~~~~ (b)the court enters in the record the reason for not awarding fees under the provisions of Subsection (1).
What does this all mean for The Paltrow? It basically means that Dr. Sanderson filed a lawsuit “in bad faith” and knew that what he was suing was “without merit.”
Remember what Gwenyth’s attorneys kept saying? That Dr. Sanderson was trying to exploit her because she was a celebrity. Now it’s up to the judge to decide.
How do you prevent having to pay the other side’s attorney’s fees? That’s easy. Don’t be a D-bag.