How an online sleuth uncovered a group chat and won case for Gwyneth Paltrow

·8-min read
(Rick Bowmer/AP) (AP)
(Rick Bowmer/AP) (AP)

Online posts by a man suing Gwyneth Paltrow over a ski collision seven years ago helped changed the course of the bombshell trial — but they were only discovered by an internet sleuth after both sides in the litigation failed to retrieve them.

Terry Sanderson, 76, claimed that the Hollywood star ploughed into him on the slopes of Flagstaff Mountain at the Deer Valley Resort on 26 February 2016. Mr Sanderson claims Ms Paltrow slammed into him in a “full body hit” leaving him with a permanent traumatic brain injury that robbed him of “his enjoyment for life.”

Jurors returned a verdict in favour of Ms Paltrow after just over two hours of deliberation on Thursday, effectively awarding Ms Paltrow a symbolic $1. But new evidence unveiled earlier this week by online sleuth Michael Fletcher might have helped the jury side with Ms Paltrow.

Mr Fletcher accessed a link that Mr Sanderson had emailed to his three daughters after the collision — which the defence had earlier alleged was broken. Speaking with The Independent on Wednesday, Mr Fletcher said he only had to create an account on the website Meetup and go back to the group chat’s discussion on the day the ski crash took place.

“I’ve been watching the trial. After they kept saying, ‘it’s the most important piece of evidence,” I just thought I’d check it out,” Mr Fletcher said. “Mind you, I did this all on a cellphone.”

The uncovered messages between Mr Sanderson and witness Craig Ramon offered insight into their fresh reactions after the crash, as opposed to their version of what went down on the slopes at Deer Valley seven years on.

While some of their remarks in the Meetup forum match the accounts jurors heard, others contradicted parts of Mr Sanderson and Mr Ramon’s testimonies.

Here’s how those posts measure up to what was said in the trial:

Has Mr Sanderson skied again?

One of the claims at the centre of Mr Sanderson’s argument was that the collision with Ms Paltrow robbed him of his “charm” and “zest for life.”

The jury has heard that Mr Sanderson is no longer able to enjoy activities that used to give him joy — dancing, wine tasting and skiing — because of his cognitive decline.

“I researched that ski group, I went back to 2014 to every single of that group’s past events that witness Craig Ramon and Terry were attending,” Mr Fletcher told The Independent.


But Mr Fletcher said that he found a post on 22 October 2016 that hinted Mr Sanderson had at least attempted to ski in the aftermath of the crash with Ms Paltrow.

The post read: “ ... Plan on joining our Alta Ski group of mixed abilities. We usually ski mid-week and some Sundays...”

Mr Sanderson testified on Monday that despite being instructed by his doctor not to ski again, he had attempted to do it without success.

“I was told that if I did and had another crash, that I could wind up full-time in a nursing home,” he told jurors.

Did Craig Ramon know Ms Paltrow’s celebrity status?

Under cross-examination by the defence last week, Craig Ramon claimed that he only became familiar with Ms Paltrow’s celebrity status thanks to another member of the Meetup group who was skiing with him and Mr Sanderson on the day of the collision.

Mr Ramon said that he was initially informed by Eric Christiansen, Ms Paltrow’s son Moses’s ski instructor, that Mr Sanderson “had [taken] out Gwyneth Paltrow.”

Then, he testified on Tuesday (21 March), that another skier told her that the Hollywood star was “with the Coldplay guy” — most likely in reference to Chris Martin, the frontman of the band and Ms Paltrow’s ex-husband.

In reality, Ms Paltrow was skiing along with her children, Apple and Moses, and his then-boyfriend Brad Falchuck.

Mr Ramon also claimed that Mr Falchuck gave him a dirty look as he walked past an unconscious Mr Sanderson still face-deep in the snow.


But when recounting the collision days later on the Meetup group chat, Mr Ramon gave a far more colourful insight into his knowledge of the Goop mogul.

“Gwyneth took out Terry last week. Last Saturday her son broke his arm skiing at Park City,” Mr Ramon wrote. “Gwyneth was staying at The Montage. She took her plane out of Million Air Airport. I wish I did know so many people. What makes me mad is that Gwyneth took out Terry and just took off.”

Although the post echoed Mr Ramon’s previous testimony of that version of the events, Ms Paltrow’s attorneys tried to poke holes in his claims that he was barely aware of Ms Paltrow’s fame.

After the Meetup posts were admitted in court on Monday, Mr Ramon took the stand once again to explain his remarks. He told the jury that “a lady he knew at Montage” had told him that Ms Paltrow was staying there and that he only learned about her plane flight arrangements because another friend worked at Million Air Airport.

“She knew that Gwyneth took out Terry so when I saw her then she told me what happened, I didn’t ask her,” he said.

When confronted about his claims about Ms Paltrow’s son being false, he said: “I have no idea, this is what I was told.”

Was Mr Sanderson star-struck by Ms Paltrow?

In the newly revealed posts, Mr Sanderson makes no mention of who is at fault for the crash, but he testified on Monday that he “was not into celebrity worship.”

Asked why he sent an email with the subject line ‘I’m famous’ to his three daughters just hours after the collision, he said that “another personality” had taken over.

“My head was scrambled. All I was trying to do was desperately communicate with my kids before they heard from someone else,” Mr Sanderson told jurors. “I didn’t pick my words well—and it was not at all how I felt... I was really trying to add some levity to a serious situation and it backfired. Little did I know this is where we’d be.”

He then said: “I’m not into celebrity worship, so I didn’t care at that point ... It was the other personality inhabiting my body”

Mr Sanderson only commented on the Meetup skiing group about his injuries.

“Thanks to all for your concern... it’s official “ at least two broken ribs and a concussion”. the ribs only hurt when I move …” he wrote at the time.

How long did it take Mr Sanderson to remember his name?

In a 2019 deposition, Mr Ramon told Ms Paltrow’s attorneys that Mr Sanderson did not know his name when he regained consciousness after the collision.

However, he said at the time that after a few seconds, Mr Sanderson remembered and nodded.

He then told the jury last week that Mr Sanderson had no recollection of his name, and was confronted by the defence with his earlier statements.

On the Meetup forum, Mr Ramon wrote: “Scott the thing you did not see was Terry was knocked out cold. Bad hit to the head! Not to sure if Terry has broken ribs. I did see the hit. Terry did not know his name. I asked Terry what his name was and he did not know. Scott it scared the hell out of me.”

Under cross-examination once again on Monday, Mr Ramon said: “When I first asked him, he did not remember his name.”

Mr Ramon asserted that he believed it took Mr Sanderson around six seconds to remember his name, but he couldn’t be certain as he was not timing it.

Another post by Mr Sanderson read: “I was so happy to see that sled show up...I really did not know up from down...”

What’s the extent of Mr Sanderson’s injuries?

One of the unveiled comments made by Mr Sanderson shows the early signs of his concerns about the effect of the collision on both his physical health and personality, the issue at the heart of his lawsuit.


“The concussion is causing some rather bizarre physical and personality issues unlike anything I’ve ever faced before. I’m hoping that comes around quickly…” Mr Sanderson wrote.

Mr Sanderson filed for damages in January 2019 and is seeking $300,000 in compensation for the injuries he sustained, prompting the actress to file a countersuit in which she asks for a symbolic $1 should she win and for her legal expenses to be covered.

The decision on Thursday comes after two weeks of complex testimony by neurology and brain injury experts for both sides. Eyewitnesses, Deer Valley employees, Ms Paltrow’s children Apple and Moses, and Mr Sanderson’s daughters also testified under oath.

The actress did not appear to react as the verdict was returned. She previously said she felt “very sorry” for Mr Sanderson’s health decline following the incident, but maintained she had not been “at fault” and said she had been the “victim”.