IRVING, TX – Charter Communications, a telecommunications and mass media company with services branded as Spectrum, has been ordered by a Texas jury to pay $7 billion in punitive damages to the family of a grandmother who was murdered by one of their repairmen after the company was accused of negligence by failing to properly vet the man before employing him.
This verdict follows Charter being ordered last month to pay $337.5 million in compensatory damages in the same case after off-duty Spectrum repairman Roy James Holden killed Betty Jo McClain Thomas, 83, of Las Colinas, Texas.
According to the Irving Police Department, Holden had performed repair work on behalf of Spectrum at Thomas’ house on December 11, 2019 at 1 p.m. However, he returned the next day while off the clock – still driving his Spectrum-branded van – at which time he stabbed Thomas to death and stole her credit cards and ID.
Holden subsequently pleaded guilty to murdering Thomas and is currently serving a life sentence in prison.
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The crux of the civil case brought by the attorneys representing Thomas’ family against Charter hinges on claims that Holden was not properly vetted before he was hired to work for Spectrum as a repairman. Thomas’ lawyers said that Holden had lied about previous employment he listed on his job application, information that Charter failed to verify before hiring him.
If Charter had properly checked into Holden’s background, it was argued, he never would have been hired in the first place and thus, would have never carried out Thomas’ murder.
In addition, court records indicate that Holden had multiple disciplinary issues while employed by Charter, including taking pictures of driver’s licenses and credit cards while in repair calls at the homes of two other elderly female customers. He had also requested money from his operations manager and mental health services from Charter’s employee assistance program.
But despite these clear red flags, Thomas’ attorneys said, Holden was allowed to keep his repairman job.
Chris Hamilton, representing Thomas’ attorney, the case was not about the money, but for making the grim incident part of the public record and ensuring that “it wasn’t a slap-on-the-wrist case where everything is swept under the rug.” Typically, negligence cases against large corporations are rarely successful to this degree, and are often settled before trial, with the company in question not admitting any wrongdoing.
A Charter spokesperson responded to the verdict, saying that they would appeal it.
“The law in Texas and the facts presented at trial clearly show this crime was not foreseeable,” he said. “The plaintiffs’ claims of wrongdoing by Charter are categorically false.”