Increase / A Charter Spectrum service truck in McKinney, Texas on Tuesday, February 16, 2021.

Getty Images | Bloomberg

Charter Communications must pay more than $1.1 billion to the estate and family of an 83-year-old woman killed in her home by a Spectrum cable technician, a Dallas County District Court judge ruled yesterday.

A jury in the same court previously ordered Charter to pay $7 billion in punitive damages and $337.5 million compensatory damages. Judge Juan Renteria reduced the sentence in a ruling issued yesterday.

The damages are split between the estate and the four grown children of murder victim Betty Thomas. Renteria did not change the amount of the punitive damages, but reduced the punitive damages awarded to the family to $750 million. Prejudgment interest on damages brings Charter’s total liability to more than $1.1 billion.

Unsurprisingly, the judge reduced the award, leading the jury to decide that punitive damages should be more than 20 times higher than Harter’s compensatory damages. A ratio of nine to one is often used as the maximum because of a 2003 US Supreme Court ruling which stated: “In practice, few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages will substantially satisfy due process.”

Former Spectrum technician Roy Holden pleaded guilty to murdering customer Betty Thomas in 2019 and was sentenced to life in prison in April 2021. Charter was accused of hiring Holden without background checks and ignoring a number of indicators of his behavior, including stealing credit cards and checks from elderly female customers. (More about the murder in our the previous one two articles on topic.)

Jury: Charter guilty of “gross negligence” and forgery

Charter has already paid part of the judgment. “Following the jury’s verdict and prior to this judgment, the plaintiffs voluntarily paid a substantial amount of damages pursuant to Rule 315,” Renteria wrote.

Judge Renteria did not challenge the jury’s finding that Harter was guilty of “gross negligence” in Thomas’ murder. “The Court, having considered the evidence presented at trial, the jury’s verdict, Plaintiffs’ voluntary release, the written and oral arguments of counsel, and the applicable law, finds that judgment should be entered in favor of Plaintiffs,” Renteria wrote.

The jury also found that “Charter knowingly or willfully committed a forgery with intent to defraud or injure the plaintiffs,” Renteria wrote. Family lawyer previously said that “Charter Spectrum attorneys used a forged document to try to force the lawsuit into closed arbitration, the results of which would be secret and the manslaughter damages would be limited to the amount of Ms. Thomas’s final bill.”

The damages totaled $375 million, with Charter responsible for $337.5 million and Holden for $37.5 million. Charter may end up paying that $37.5 million as well; The judge’s order said the plaintiffs are entitled to $37.5 million in “actual damages against Roy James Holden or Charter Communications, LLC, jointly and severally.”

Charter still plans to appeal the decision, a company spokesperson told Ars today. Charter previously said in a statement to Ars that “the crime was not foreseeable” and that a pre-hire criminal background check on Holden “did not reveal any arrests, convictions or other criminal conduct.” Charter also said Holden had “more than 1,000 completed service calls with no customer complaints about his behavior.”

Disclosure: Advance/Newhouse Partnership, which owns 12.4 percent of Charter, is part of Advance Publications. Advance Publications owns Condé Nast, which owns Ars Technica.

https://arstechnica.com/?p=1883024

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