CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Ray Khirallah delivering his closing argument in the punitive damages phase of the trial. Click here to see gavel-to-gavel video of the full trial.
Dallas, TX - A Texas state court jury slammed cable company Charter Communications, also known as Spectrum, with a massive $7 billion punitive damages verdict on Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by the family of an elderly woman murdered in her home by a company field technician.
Tuesday’s verdict comes on top of $375 million in compensatory damages already awarded to relatives of Betty Thomas following an earlier phase of the trial that began in early June.
Thomas’ family accused Charter of negligently hiring former employee Roy James Holden, who stabbed Thomas to death after attempting to rob her the day after performing service work on her telephone line. Holden was not on the clock during the incident, but he did arrive in his company van wearing his uniform and stabbed Thomas to death using a company-issued knife.
The family’s lawsuit claimed Charter failed to perform an adequate background check on Holden, which their attorneys argued would have shown he largely fabricated his work history, and that requests to supervisors for more work hours and personal loans should have raised red flags that he posed a danger to customers.
Charter argued that Holden, who is currently serving a lifetime prison sentence for the murder, was solely responsible for Thomas' death. They cited Holden's positive record of customer reviews and maintained the company should not be held liable for actions Holden took while off duty and without the awareness or assistance of anyone at the company.
The full trial was webcast and recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network, the only news media organization in the country dedicated to video coverage of civil trials that matter to the professional community. Unlimited on-demand access to both phases of the trial, including all witness testimony, is included with a subscription to CVN’s online trial video library along with access to hundreds of other civil trials in state courts throughout the United States.
Attorneys Ray Khirallah and Chris Hamilton of Hamilton Wingo LLP, who represented the plaintiffs, said in a statement issued after the trial that the case raised important public safety issues related to cable company employees that enter thousands of Americans' homes every week.
“Charter Spectrum had too many chances to prevent this tragedy, and the company showed a complete disregard for the safety of its customers. Worse, the trial reveals how vulnerable Charter Spectrum customers remain today at the hands of a company that appears not to care about public safety,” Khirallah said. “This verdict fairly reflects the extent of the evidence against Charter Spectrum and the dangerous nature of the company’s serious misconduct and violations of the law.”
Hamilton added that he hoped the punitive damages award would send a broader message.
“This was a shocking breach of faith by a company that sends workers inside millions of homes every year,” he said. "For the safety of the American public, we can only hope that Charter Spectrum and its shareholders are listening.”
Charter spokesperson Rich Ruggiero told CVN in a statement that while the company had great sympathy for the plaintiffs that their claims were "categorically false" and the company would appeal the verdict.
"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," Ruggiero said. "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.”
The plaintiffs were represented by Ray Khirallah and Chris Hamilton of Hamilton Wingo LLP.
Charter is represented by Ed Davis of Lewis Brisbois and Michael Bassett of The Bassett Firm.
The case is captioned Goff v. Charter Communications Inc., et al., case number CC-20-01579-E in Dallas County Court.