Jury sends letter to Charter with $7 billion verdict on client murder

Zoom / Charter Spectrum cable truck in West Lake Hills, Texas, in April 2019.

A Texas jury has ordered Charter Communications to pay $7 billion in punitive damages to the family of an 83-year-old woman who was murdered in their home by a Spectrum cable technician. A jury in a Dallas County District Court returned the $7 billion ruling Tuesday after previously finding Charter responsible for $337.5 million in damages.

The judge can reduce the damages. The charter states that he should not be held responsible for the murder and that he plans to appeal. The jury, which found in the first phase of the case that negligence of the charter was a leading cause of death, reportedly reached the $7 billion verdict after less than two hours of deliberation.

“This was a horrific breach of debt by a company that sends workers into millions of homes each year,” Chris Hamilton, one of the family’s attorneys, said in a news release Tuesday. “The jury in this case was thoughtful and considerate of the evidence. This ruling rightly reflects the broad evidence regarding the nature of the damage caused by Charter Spectrum’s gross negligence and reckless misconduct.”

Roy Holden, former Spectrum technician, pleaded guilty to the 2019 murder of customer Betty Thomas and was sentenced to life in prison in April 2021. He robbed and killed Thomas the day after the service call. The press release described the murder as follows:

Mr. Holden made a service call at Mrs. Thomas’s home the day before her murder in December 2019. Although Charter claimed he was off duty the next day, he was able to learn that Mrs. Thomas had been informed that she was still having problems with her service and used a card His company key to getting into a fleet of Charter Spectrum-insured vehicles and driving a Charter Spectrum car. Van to her home. Once inside, while repairing her fax machine, the victim, Mrs. Thomas, discovered the field tech stealing her credit cards from her wallet. Spectrum Charter’s field tech company Roy Holden brutally stabbed the 83-year-old customer with an interest knife provided by Charter Spectrum, and went overspending with her credit cards.

Charter accused of forgery

The press release further stated that “Charter Spectrum’s attorneys used a fraudulent document to attempt to force the lawsuit into a closed arbitration where the results would be confidential and compensation for the murder would be limited to Ms. Thomas’ final amount. The jury found that Spectrum Charter committed the forgery beyond reasonable doubt, It is conduct that constitutes a first-degree felony under Texas law.”

The Dallas Morning News reported that sentencing papers show that “the jury agreed that the charter” knowingly and intentionally “forged the documents.”

The trial testimony also revealed that Charter “hired Roy Holden without verifying his employment history, which would have revealed that he lied about his employment history”, and that “supervisors ignored a series of red flags, including Mr. Holden’s written petitions to the top management requesting assistance due to Extreme distress due to financial and family problems,” the family’s lawyers said. In addition, “Charter Spectrum employees acknowledged during the trial that the theft of field technology and crimes against the victim commenced in the performance of his duty and in the course of his work and scope the day before.”

Damage may be reduced based on precedent

The large amount of punitive damages awarded increases the likelihood that a judge will reduce the sentence. Mark Lanier, a Texas civil attorney, said: “Punitive damages like this are never paid – they are always reduced.” “It’s a message that shows just how frustrated the jury is at the terrible facts.”

The Wall Street Journal also quoted California-based consumer attorney Brian Kapatek as saying, “It’s a staggering amount of punitive damages…I think the life span of this ruling is going to be very short.” Kapatek said he doubted “this judge might look very dimly at the size of this ruling and might reduce it.”

A 2003 ruling by the US Supreme Court stated that “in practice, few compensations that exceed the single-digit ratio between punitive damages and reparations, by and large, satisfy due process.” These ratios are not binding, but”[s]”Single-digit multiples are more likely to comply with due process, while still achieving state goals of deterrence and retaliation, than rewards in the range of 500 to 1,” the ruling said.

A US District Court judge in California cited that precedent in April when he reduced the jury’s ruling for punitive damages from $130 million to $13.5 million, a nine-to-one ratio of $1.5 million in damages. In the case, which involved racial abuse suffered by a Tesla factory worker, the judge wrote that a nine-to-one ratio “to the extent of compensatory damages is guaranteed and constitutional.”

In the case of the charter, the nine-to-one ratio would result in more than $3 billion in punitive damages.

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