Charter won't pay out $7b after cable installer murdered woman. Just $1b instead

Well, assuming the US ISP doesn't win its appeal

A Dallas judge has reduced the amount Charter Communications must pay the family of a subscriber murdered by one of its Spectrum cable technicians.

Despite the reduction, the court still considers the American broadband giant's negligence was a factor in the slaying. 

Last year, Spectrum technician Roy Holden Jr admitted he murdered 83-year-old Betty Thomas, a Charter customer, in 2019 in her own home using a Charter-issued knife and gloves. The day before the killing, he had showed up to carry out a repair job, as requested, and returned the next day unannounced using a van he was able to take from a Charter site even though he was not scheduled to work.

It was said he killed the grandmother after she caught him going through her purse looking for bank cards to steal. Holden was sentenced to life behind bars.

In July this year, a jury decided Charter owed Thomas's family $7.3 billion in damages and other costs as a result of its negligence in allowing Holden to use a company van that fateful day and for not noticing various red flags, such as him lying about his employment history and being seemingly unstable at work.

Judge Juan Renteria's ruling on Monday adjusts that amount down to around $1.1 billion to split between Thomas's four children and her estate. The original compensatory damages of $337 million were unchanged, but Judge Renteria lowered punitive damages intended to punish Charter to a total of $750 million.

Judge Renteria said Charter had already "voluntarily remitted a substantial amount of the exemplary damages." As well, the ratio between the compensatory and punitive damages in the jury's original verdict was far greater than the cap introduced by the 2003 State Farm v. Campbell US Supreme Court decision that limited punitive damages to less than ten times the compensatory penalty. 

The penalty reduction isn't stopping Charter's appeal, which seeks to overturn the damages against it, a spokesperson told The Register.

Charter denies any wrongdoing, reiterating an earlier statement that "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 isn't on the hook for every dollar of the compensatory damages. Holden is formally responsible for $37.5 million in addition to Charter's $337m. With Holden in prison for life, it's likely his share of the damages will fall on Charter as well: in his decision, Judge Renteria said that Holden's part of the payout can be charged "against either Roy James Holden or Charter Communications." ®

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