Judge rules Charter must pay $1.1 billion after cable customer murdered

Judge rules Charter must pay $1.1 billion after cable customer murdered

Enlarge / A Charter Spectrum service truck in McKinney, Texas on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.

Getty Images | Bloomberg

Charter Communications must pay more than $1.1 billion to the estate and family of an 83-year-old woman murdered in her home by a Spectrum cable technician, a Dallas County Court judge ruled yesterday.

A jury in the same court had previously ordered Charter to pay $7 billion in punitive damages and $337.5 million in compensatory damages. Judge Juan Renteria lowered the price in a ruling issued yesterday.

Damages are split between the estate and four adult children of murder victim Betty Thomas. Renteria did not change the compensatory damages but reduced the punitive damages awarded to the family to $750 million. Prejudgment interest on damages brings Charter’s total liability to more than $1.1 billion.

It’s no surprise the judge lowered the payout, in which the jury ruled that punitive damages should be more than 20 times what Charter is liable for in compensatory damages. A nine-to-one ratio is often used as the maximum due to a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision which stated, “In practice, few awards exceeding a single-digit damages- punitive and compensatory interests, to a large extent, will satisfy the deal.”

Former Spectrum tech Roy Holden pleaded guilty to murdering client Betty Thomas in 2019 and was sentenced to life in prison in April 2021. Charter was accused of hiring Holden without checking his work history and to ignore a series of red flags about his behavior, which included stealing credit cards and checks from elderly customers. (More details on the murder are in our previous two articles on the subject.)

Jury: Charter guilty of “gross negligence” and forgery

Charter has already paid part of the judgment. “After the jury verdict and prior to the entry of this judgment, the plaintiffs voluntarily remitted a substantial amount of exemplary damages pursuant to Rule 315,” Renteria wrote.

Judge Renteria did not dispute the jury’s finding that Charter was guilty of “gross negligence” in the murder of Thomas. “The Court, having considered the evidence presented at trial, the verdict of the jury, the voluntary surrender of the plaintiffs, the written and oral arguments of counsel and the applicable law, is of the opinion that a judgment must be entered in favor of the plaintiffs,” Renteria wrote.

The jury also found that “Charter knowingly or intentionally committed an infringement with intent to defraud or harm plaintiffs,” Renteria wrote. The family’s attorney previously said that “Charter Spectrum’s attorneys used a false document to attempt to force the trial into a closed-door arbitration where the results would have been secret and damages for the murder would have been limited. to the amount of Mrs. Thomas’ final bill.”

Compensatory damages totaled $375 million, with Charter liable for $337.5 million and Holden for $37.5 million. Charter may end up having to pay that $37.5 million as well; the judge’s ruling said plaintiffs are entitled to the $37.5 million as “actual damages against Roy James Holden or Charter Communications, LLC, jointly and severally.”

Charter still plans to appeal the decision, a company spokesperson told Ars today. Charter previously said in a statement to Ars that the “crime was not foreseeable” and that Holden’s criminal background check “did not show any arrests, convictions or other criminal behavior.” Charter also said Holden had “over 1,000 completed service calls with no customer complaints about its behavior.”

Disclosure: The Advance/Newhouse partnership, which owns 12.4% of Charter, is part of Advance Publications. Advance Publications owns Condé Nast, which owns Ars Technica.

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