Charter Communications has been ordered to pay $1.15 billion to the family of an 83-year-old customer slain three years ago by one of the cable company's off-duty installers in a botched robbery attempt.
Dallas County Court Judge Juan Renteria's "final judgment" reduced a $7 billion punitive damages award rendered by a jury in July to around $809 million. That's combined with a $337.5 million compensatory damages verdict awarded by the same jury in June.
According to the plaintiffs' attorney Chris Hamilton, the victim's family "voluntarily remitted the $7 billion punitive damages award to an amount equal to two times the compensatory damages in requesting entry of judgment. This conservative damages multiplier will make the judgment exceedingly unlikely to be overturned on appeal given the criminal forgery findings against Charter and established Supreme Court precedent."
Judge Renteria's ruling included a determination that Charter knowingly committed forgery in its defense.
Irving, Texas grandmother Betty Thomas was fatally stabbed by Roy Holden in December 2019, a day after he visited the victim's residence on official company business. Holden plead guilty to criminal charges and is now serving a life sentence in a Texas prison.
For its part, Charter still plans to appeal.
“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," Charter said in a statement.
The plaintiffs said a cursory look at Holden's background would have revealed his history of firings for forging documents and harassing coworkers.
Further, the plaintiffs argued that Charter ignored obvious cries for help from the convicted killer, who was fresh off a divorce and distraught over his financial situation. In his desperation, he turned to robbing elderly Charter employees he came in contact with through his job, plaintiffs say.
“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.”
Blair Levin, a policy analyst for New Street Research, believes that Charter's punitive damages burden will be reduced yet again on appeal. Based on precedent, Levin speculated that punitive damages will ultimately come in at a number ratio'd at 1:1 with the $337.5 million compensatory damages award.
Certainly, even a reduced $675 million final "final" damages judgement will impact the balance sheet of a cable company that's seen its stock price decline 44% since the beginning of 2022. ■
Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!
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