Charter Spectrum struck with $ 7 billion in punitive damages for the 2019 murder

A Texas jury found Charter Communications responsible for $ 7 billion in punitive damages this week following a family lawsuit of Betty Jo McClain Thomas, an 83-year-old woman who was stabbed to death by one of her employees in December. 2019. The $ 7 billion is on top of the $ 375 million in damages awarded by the jury in June.

The explanation behind the staggering verdict goes far beyond the horrific 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 accepted forced arbitration that would have limited the potential damages to his last account amount.

Evidence presented by the Charter to compel arbitration

Evidence presented by the Charter to compel arbitration.
Image: Dallas County Courts Portal, Texas

While awarding the $ 7 billion in exemplary damages for gross negligence, the jurors decided that Charter tried to force the case into arbitration using forged documents from Spectrum, its internet service provider. Charter sought to enforce arbitration by using a terms of service document which they claimed Thomas had accepted when signing up for the service, which would be withdrawn from its database.

During the trial, the family’s lawyers highlighted a number of inconsistencies with the document. Those include dates on it that did not match the times it would be withdrawn from the Charter system and a blank spot where Thomas’s name should have been. In other cases, the company’s lawyers have presented a different provision without the arbitration clause.

Although the documents were supposed to represent evidence from Charter’s live database, they did show an address indicating that the file was indeed stored on someone’s personal computer. At the bottom, it shows the address of the file, which reads “localhost: 62220 / VewContracts.aspx”.

Localhost is a loopback address, which represents 127.0.0.1, and it means that the request is not leaving the computer it was started from or is not accessing any other network or database.

A USA Today The report earlier this month outlines the murder, committed by a Spectrum cable repairman who returned to Thomas’s home the day after he was sent for a service call to repair his fax machine. Lawyers representing Thomas’s family argued in court that the technician, Roy James Holden, learned that the woman had reported ongoing issues with her service, so she used her company key card to drive one of her vans to her home, where she caught him trying to steal her credit cards, and he killed her.

Charter Spectrum bill sent to Betty Thomas in 2020

Charter Spectrum bill sent to Betty Thomas in 2020

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

The jury found that Charter was a cause close to Thomas’ death, meaning the company committed an act or omission “that a person using ordinary care would have foreseen harm, or similar harm, could be. expected “and assigned him 90 percent of the responsibility. The plaintiff’s attorneys pointed out that Charter’s failure to perform a background check that allegedly showed Holden lied about his work history and presented evidence that he had repeatedly sought help from supervisors and management due to personal problems. and they told them that at one 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.

Additionally, Thomas’s family attorneys presented evidence that Charter Spectrum technicians had been responsible for more than 2,500 customer thefts in the several years prior to the murder and said the company refused to investigate or report them to the police. The court included a dispossession order with jury instructions, based on Charter’s destruction of evidence that should have been retained, including video surveillance and tracking information for Holden, and found Charter guilty of contempt for failing to produced other documents.

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

Our hearts go out to Mrs. Thomas’s 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 that he is in prison for life. While respecting the jury and the judicial system, we absolutely disagree with the verdict and will appeal.

Texas law and the facts presented at the trial clearly show that this crime was unpredictable and the allegations of wrongdoing by the plaintiffs by Charter are categorically false. We are committed to the safety of all our clients and have taken necessary measures, including a thorough criminal background check prior to hiring, which has shown no arrests, convictions or other criminal behavior. Nor did anything in Mr. Holden’s performance after he was hired suggest that he was capable of the crime he committed, including more than 1,000 completed service calls with zero customer complaints about his behavior.

On Friday morning, Charter released earnings results for the second quarter of 2022, posting revenue of $ 13.6 billion, “driven primarily by growth in residential, furniture and commercial revenues.” His press release did not mention the case or verdict, and a transcript of his earnings call posted on Seeking Alpha shows that analysts haven’t asked executives about it. A 10-Q document filed with the SEC mentioned it in the Contingents section.

The Company has taken into consideration various factors, including the legal and factual circumstances of the case, the minutes of the trial, the verdicts of the jury, the state of the proceedings, the applicable law, the opinion of the lawyer, the judgments of the court before and during the trial, together with the upcoming post-trial petitions of the parties for the determination of the various grounds of appeal that the Company intends to vigorously pursue and the probability of acceptance of the appeal. Based on these factors, the Company has concluded that a loss arising from this case is not probable and reasonably estimated. Therefore, the Company has not accrued a liability for the negative verdict in its financial statements as at 30 June 2022.

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