Charter Spectrum was awarded  billion in punitive damages for the 2019 murder

Charter Spectrum was awarded $7 billion in punitive damages for the 2019 murder

A jury in Texas this week found Charter Communications to pay $7 billion in punitive damages as a result of a lawsuit filed by the family of Betty Jo McClain Thomas, an 83-year-old woman who was stabbed to death by one of her associates in December 2019. The 7th Billions come in addition to the $375 million in damages the jury awarded in June.

The explanation behind the staggering number of the verdict goes well beyond the appalling crime committed. It also includes the company’s policies and responses to previous theft incidents and an attempt to forge a document showing that Thomas would have consented to forced arbitration that would have limited potential damage to the amount of their most recent bill.

Evidence submitted by the Charter to compel arbitration

Evidence submitted by the Charter to compel arbitration.
Image: Dallas County, Texas Court Portal

While the $7 billion exemplary gross negligence damages were awarded, the jury ruled that Charter attempted to force the case to arbitration using forged documents from Spectrum, its internet service provider. Charter attempted to force arbitration using a terms of service document they allegedly agreed to when they signed up for the service, which was allegedly pulled from their database.

During the trial, the family’s lawyers pointed out a number of inconsistencies with the document. These include dates on it that didn’t match the times it was allegedly pulled from Charter’s system and a blank space where Thomas’s name should have been. In other cases, the company’s attorneys presented other terms without the arbitration clause.

While the documents were supposed to be evidence from Charter’s live database, they showed an address that suggested the file was actually stored on someone’s PC. At the very bottom is the file address, which is “localhost:62220/VewContracts.aspx”.

Localhost is a loopback address that represents 127.0.0.1 and means that the request does not leave the computer it was started from or access any other network or database at all.

A United States today Report from earlier this month outlines the murder committed by a Spectrum cable technician who returned to Thomas’s home the day after he was sent on a service call to fix her fax machine. Attorneys representing Thomas’ family argued in court that technician Roy James Holden learned the woman had been reporting ongoing problems with her service and then used his company key card to drive one of his vans to her home, where she caught him trying to steal her credit cards, and he murdered her.

Charter Spectrum invoice sent to Betty Thomas in 2020

Charter Spectrum invoice sent to Betty Thomas in 2020

On January 3, 2020, Charter sent Thomas an overdue invoice that included a one-time fee of $58.94 for the service call.

The jury found that Charter was a proximate cause of Thomas’s death, meaning the company committed an act or omission “wherein a person using ordinary care could have foreseen the injury or like injury,” and ruled her 90 percent of the responsibility too. Plaintiff’s attorneys pointed to Charter’s failure to complete a background check that would have shown Holden had lied about his work history and presented evidence that he had repeatedly sought help from supervisors and management over personal issues, telling them, that at some point he thought He was a Dallas Cowboys player.

Holden admitted to committing the murder and was sentenced to life in prison in April 2021.

In addition, lawyers for Thomas’ family presented evidence that Charter Spectrum’s technicians were responsible for more than 2,500 thefts against customers over several years prior to the murder, saying the company refused to investigate or turn them over to the police Report to. The court added to the jury’s orders an eminent possession order based on Charter’s destruction of evidence intended to be preserved, including video surveillance and tracking information for Holden, and found Charter guilty of contempt for failing to produce other documents.

In a statement released after the ruling, Charter spokesman Cameron Blanchard said:

Our hearts go out to Mrs Thomas’s family after this senseless and tragic crime. Responsibility for this horrific act rests solely with Mr Holden who was off duty and we are grateful he is serving life in prison. While we respect the jury and the justice system, we strongly disagree with the verdict and will be appealing.

Texas law and the facts presented at trial make it clear that this crime was not foreseeable – and the plaintiffs’ claims that Charter committed wrongdoing are categorically false. We are committed to the safety of all our clients and have taken the necessary steps, including a thorough pre-employment criminal background check – which resulted in no arrests, convictions or other criminal conduct. Also, nothing in Mr. Holden’s post-employment performance suggested he was capable of the crime he committed, including completing more than 1,000 service calls with no customer complaints about his behavior.

On Friday morning, Charter released its earnings results for the second quarter of 2022, reporting revenue of $13.6 billion, “primarily driven by growth in residential, mobile and commercial revenue.” Its press release made no mention of the case or the ruling, and a transcript of its earnings call sent to Seeking Alpha shows analysts did not ask executives about it. A 10-Q filing with the SEC mentioned it in the contingencies section.

The Company has considered various factors, including the legal and factual circumstances of the case, the trial records, the jury’s verdicts, the status of the trial, the applicable law, the views of counsel, and the court decisions made before and during the trial, along with those to come post-trial motions of the parties in determining the various grounds of appeal that the Company expects to vigorously pursue and the likelihood of a successful appeal. Based on these factors, the Company has determined that loss in this case is not probable and cannot be reasonably estimated. Therefore, the company has not recognized any liability for the negative judgment in its annual financial statements as of June 30, 2022.

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