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Texas Jury Hits Charter with $7B Penalty Verdict

Charter
(Image credit: Charter)

DALLAS, Texas—A Jury has issued a $7 billion penalty verdict against Charter Communications in a civil lawsuit involving an elderly woman who was killed by a technician employed by Charter’s Spectrum cable operation.  

In June, the Dallas Texas jury held Charter responsible for $337.5 million in compensatory damages for the December 2019 murder of Betty Jo McClain Thomas, according to USA Today (opens in new tab)

Roy Holden, a Charter technician, plead guilty to the murder and is now serving a life sentence in Texas. 

The new $7 billion dollar award is meant to punish the company for systemic safety failures that led to the robbery and stabbing death of an 83-year-old woman by a cable repairman and for using forged documents to try to keep a jury from hearing the lawsuit, attorneys for the plaintiffs said. 

Charter has said it will appeal the verdict and has expressed 

In a statement to Next TV, Charter responded by saying “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."

“The law in Texas and the facts presented at trial clearly show this crime was not foreseeable — and the plaintiffs’ claims of wrongdoing by Charter are categorically false," Charter added. "We are committed to the safety of all our customers and took the necessary steps, including a thorough pre-employment criminal background check — which showed no arrests, convictions or other criminal behavior. Nor did anything in Mr. Holden’s performance after he was hired suggest he was capable of the crime he committed, including more than 1,000 completed service calls with zero customer complaints about his behavior.”

In a press release following the verdict, the lawyers for the murdered woman’s family laid out some of the key claims that led to the verdict. 

"This was a shocking breach of faith by a company that sends workers inside millions of homes every year," said trial lawyer Chris Hamilton of Dallas-based Hamilton Wingo in the press release announcing the verdict. "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."

The attorneys for the family of the murdered woman said that trial testimony revealed that Charter Spectrum hired Roy Holden without verifying his employment history, which would have revealed that he had lied about his work history. In the weeks before he robbed and murdered Betty Thomas inside her Irving home, supervisors ignored a series of red flags, including Mr. Holden's own written pleas to upper management for help because of severe distress over financial and family problems.

Jurors agreed that Charter Spectrum's actions were the "proximate cause" of Ms. Thomas death, and found Charter Spectrum 90% responsible for the 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, the attorneys said. 

The attorneys noted that Holden performed a service call in Ms. Thomas' home the day before her Dec. 2019 murder. Although Charter contended he was off-duty the following day, he managed to learn that Ms. Thomas had reported that she was still having problems with her service and used his company key card to enter a Charter Spectrum secured vehicle lot and drove his Charter Spectrum van to her house. Once inside, while fixing her fax machine, the victim, Ms. Thomas, caught the field tech stealing her credit cards from her purse. The Charter Spectrum field tech, Roy Holden, then brutally stabbed the 83-year-old customer with a utility knife supplied by Charter Spectrum and went on a spending spree with her credit cards, the attorneys reported. 

Charter Spectrum's employees admitted at trial the field tech's theft and crimes against the victim began while he was on duty and in the course and scope of his employment the day before, the attorneys said. 

The company's employees further admitted that there was a pattern of thefts by Charter Spectrum employees against customers (more than 2,500 in the preceding several years), which the company refused to investigate or report to police, the attorneys said. 

George Winslow is the senior content producer for TV Tech. He has written about the television, media and technology industries for nearly 30 years for such publications as Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and TV Tech. Over the years, he has edited a number of magazines, including Multichannel News International and World Screen, and moderated panels at such major industry events as NAB and MIP TV. He has published two books and dozens of encyclopedia articles on such subjects as the media, New York City history and economics.