A judge slashed a $7 billion ruling down to closer to $1.15 billion in the case of an 83-year-old woman who was stabbed to death by a Charter technician in 2019. Dallas County Court Judge Juan Renteria did not specify why he reduced the amount in his decision (pdf). The company says it will appeal.
According to lawyers for the family of Betty Jo McClain Thomas, the massive award was assigned by a jury in July for two reasons: “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.”
Jurors found Charter Spectrum tried to use a forged document to force the case into arbitration
Charter submitted a terms of service agreement Thomas had supposedly agreed to that was supposed to have been pulled from its database. However, lawyers for the family argued that close examination revealed it had blank spots where her name should have been, and despite purporting to represent a live database, it displayed a “localhost” address (localhost:62220/ViewContracts.aspx), indicating it was actually stored on someone’s personal computer.
As part of their decision, jurors said that Charter had tried to compel the case into arbitration using forged documents.
As detailed in an earlier report by USA Today, the Spectrum cable repairman, Roy James Holden, was sent to Thomas’ home on a service call to fix her fax machine. Later, he learned the woman had reported ongoing issues with her service, then used his company keycard to drive one of its vans to her house, where she caught him attempting to steal her credit cards, and he murdered her.
Lawyers for the family argued Charter failed to verify Holden’s prior employment history, which would have revealed a history of being fired for misconduct and forgery. Holden also reached out to his supervisors in the days prior to the murder asking them for money and making written requests for help due to his financial distress, family problems, and mental state.
During the trial, lawyers for Thomas’ family presented evidence that Charter Spectrum techs had been responsible for more than 2,500 thefts against customers over several years.
On January 3rd, 2020, after the murder, Charter sent Thomas an overdue bill that included a one-time charge of $58.94 for the service call.
The court included a spoliation order with the jury instructions, asking them to note Charter’s destruction of evidence that should’ve been preserved, including video surveillance and tracking information for Holden, and found Charter guilty of contempt for failing to produce other documents that may have enhanced the amount of the damages awarded.
“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,” Charter spokesperson Cameron Blanchard wrote in a statement to The Verge. “While we respect the jury and the justice system, we strongly disagree with the verdict and will appeal.”
Days after the jury handed down its $7 billion verdict in July (on top of $375 million in compensatory damages awarded in June), the company told investors it “expects to vigorously pursue and the likelihood of a successful appeal.”