- Charter Communications is being ordered by a Texas jury to pay $7 billion in punitive damages.
- The damages would go to the family of an 83-year-old woman who was robbed and killed by a Spectrum technician.
- A lawyer told WSJ the punitive damages will probably be reduced by the case's judge.
Charter Communications is being ordered to pay a combined $7.37 billion in damages to the family of an 83-year-old woman from Texas who was robbed and killed by a Spectrum technician in 2019.
The jury awarded $7 billion in punitive damages against Charte "for systemic safety failures" and "for using forged documents to try to keep a jury from hearing the lawsuit," according to a press release from the law firm Hamilton Wingo, who represented the plaintiffs.
The case stems from the death of Betty Thomas, who was killed by Roy Holden, a cable technician for Spectrum, in December 2019 the day after Holden had made a service call at her house. Holden returned to Thomas's house after she was still encountering service issues, according to the lawyer's release. After catching him stealing credit cards from her purse, Holden stabbed Thomas with a utility knife that was provided by Charter Spectrum, according to the plaintiff's lawyers. After he killed Thomas, Holden began using her credit cards to make purchases, the law firm said.
After being arrested for capital murder in December 2019, Holden pled guilty to murdering Thomas in April 2021, and is serving life in prison.
The trial against Charter found that Holden's employment history wasn't verified by Charter Spectrum, "which would have revealed that he had lied about his work history." Holden had also written to his supervisors about "severe distress over financial and family problems," asking for help, according to the release.
"This was a shocking breach of faith by a company that sends workers inside millions of homes every year," said Chris Hamilton, a trial lawyer from Hamilton Wingo. "The jury in this case was thoughtful and attentive to the evidence. This verdict justly reflects the extensive evidence regarding the nature of the harm caused by Charter Spectrum's gross negligence and reckless misconduct. For the safety of the American public, we can only hope that Charter Spectrum and its shareholders are listening."
A jury in Dallas County rewarded $375 million in compensatory damages in June, and found the cable company 90% responsible for Thomas's death, "given Charter Spectrum's continued refusal to correct its negligent safety practices despite a repeated pattern of violence against innocent customers by its field techs over a period of years."
Brian Kabateck, a lawyer from California, told The Wall Street Journal that the amount of punitive damages is "breathtaking," and that the judge will "probably cut it down."
Kabateck referenced a previous Supreme Court case that punitive damages shouldn't be over 10-times as much as the compensatory damages.
"Punitive damages like that are never paid—they're always reduced," W. Mark Lanier, a civil-trial lawyer in Texas, told WSJ. "They're a message of how frustrated the jury was with egregious facts."
The jury also found that after a lawsuit was filed by Thomas's family, attorneys for Charter Spectrum "used a forged document to try to force the lawsuit into a closed-door arbitration" where damages for Thomas's murder would've only amounted to her final bill.
"The jury found that Charter Spectrum committed forgery beyond a reasonable doubt, conduct that constitutes a first-degree felony under Texas law," the press release said.
A Charter Communications spokesperson told NBC News the company will appeal the verdict of $7 billion in punitive damages, and placed sole blame on Holden.
In a statement shared with Insider, a Charter Communications spokesperson said, "Our hearts go out to Mrs. Thomas' family in the wake of this senseless and tragic crime. The responsibility for this horrible act rests solely with Mr. Holden, who was not on duty, and we are grateful he is in prison for life. While we respect the jury and the justice system, we strongly disagree with the verdict and will appeal."
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