Spectrum ordered to pay $7 billion in punitive damages after employee killed Irving woman

The company plans to appeal the verdict, which is in addition to $375 million in compensatory damages.

Update: Revised at 7:52 p.m. July 27 with an additional information from the jury.

A Dallas County jury on Tuesday ordered Charter Communications to pay $7 billion in punitive damages to the family of an 83-year-old woman who was killed by a technician in her Irving home the day after he helped her with her phone service.

The payment is in addition to $375 million a jury ordered the company to pay in compensatory damages last month. Charter, which also operates as Spectrum, is responsible for 90% of the compensatory payment.

Chris Hamilton, an attorney for the victim’s family, said her relatives were “very grateful” for the verdict.

“It’s a bittersweet day, because they lost their mom in a horrifying, preventable tragedy they’re never going to recover from,” he said. “There is certainly some relief for the family that the public has the ability to know about this danger that their mother didn’t have the opportunity to know about.”

The company said that the technician was solely responsible for the death and that it plans to appeal the verdict.

On Dec. 11, 2019, 45-year-old Roy James Holden went to the home of Betty Thomas to help her with her Spectrum phone line. The next day, while off-duty, Holden learned Thomas was still having issues and drove back to her house using a company van.

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Attorneys for Thomas’ family said she saw Holden stealing credit cards from her purse. Holden then fatally stabbed her using a company knife and went on a “spending spree” with her credit cards, the attorneys said.

Holden pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison in April 2021.

During the civil trial, attorneys for Thomas’ family argued that Spectrum failed to properly vet Holden and management failed to act after Holden showed warning signs in the days leading up to the attack.

Attorneys for Thomas’ family said during opening statements that Holden was going through a divorce and struggling financially. They said Holden had crying spells, delusions and told his supervisors he was “not OK.”

Holden was blocked from getting other assignments and given time off after completing the service call at Thomas’ house.

Testimony presented at trial also revealed the company ended its pre-employment screening program in 2016 after acquiring Time Warner.

In a written statement, Charter said the responsibility for Thomas’ death “rests solely with Mr. Holden,” and the claims of the company’s wrongdoing are “categorically false.”

“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,” the statement said. “Nor did anything in Mr. Holden’s performance after he was hired suggest he was capable of the crime he committed.”

Attorneys for the family also alleged lawyers for Spectrum forged documents containing an arbitration agreement that would have limited the damages to the amount of Thomas’ final bill.

The jury agreed that Charter “knowingly and intentionally” forged the documents, verdict papers show.

A Charter spokesman later also denied the forgery allegation.

Spectrum serves more than 32 million residential and business customers in 41 states.

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