Charter Communications must pay more than $1.1 billion to the estate and family of an 83-year-old woman killed in her home by a Spectrum cable technician, a Dallas County Court judge ruled yesterday.
A jury in the same court 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.
The damage is divided 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. The interest on the damages brings Charter’s total liability to over $1.1 billion.
Unsurprisingly, the judge reduced the payout, with the jury deciding that the punitive damages should be more than 20 times what Charter is liable for compensatory damages. A nine-to-one ratio is often used as a maximum because of a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stated, “In practice, few awards that significantly exceed a single-digit ratio of punitive to compensatory damages will meet the method.”
Former Spectrum engineer Roy Holden pleaded guilty to the murder of client Betty Thomas in 2019 and was sentenced to life imprisonment in April 2021. Charter was charged with hiring Holden without verifying his employment history and ignoring a series of red flags about his behavior, including stealing credit cards and checks from older female 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 verdict. “Following the jury’s verdict and prior to the delivery of this verdict, plaintiffs voluntarily paid a substantial amount of the exemplary damages under Rule 315,” Renteria wrote.
Judge Renteria did not dispute the jury’s conclusion that Charter was guilty of “gross negligence” in Thomas’s murder. “The Court, having considered the evidence presented at the trial, the jury’s verdict, the plaintiffs’ voluntary transfer, the defense counsel’s written and oral pleadings, and the applicable law, considers that a verdict should be given in favor of the plaintiffs,” Renteria wrote.
The jury also ruled that “Deliberately or intentionally committed counterfeiting with intent to deceive or harm plaintiffs,” Renteria wrote. The family’s attorney previously said that “Charter Spectrum attorneys used a forged document to try to force the lawsuit into closed-door arbitration, where the results would have been secret and the damages for the murder would have been limited to the amount of Mrs Thomas’ final account.”
Compensatory damages were $375 million, with Charter responsible for $337.5 million and Holden for $37.5 million. Charter may eventually have to pay that $37.5 million as well; According to the judge’s ruling, plaintiffs are entitled to the $37.5 million as “actual damages against Roy James Holden of Charter Communications, LLC, jointly and severally.”
Charter still plans to appeal the ruling, a company spokesperson told Ars today. Charter previously said in a statement to Ars that the “crime was unforeseeable” and that Holden’s criminal background checks “showed no arrests, convictions or other criminal conduct”. Charter also said Holden had “more than 1,000 completed service calls with no customer complaints about his behavior.”
Disclosure: The Advance/Newhouse Partnership, which owns 12.4 percent of the Charter, is part of Advance Publications. Advance Publications owns Condé Nast, who owns Ars Technica.
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