Judge reduces Charter’s damages to $1.15B in murder case

A Texas judge has reduced Charter Communications’ punitive damages in a murder trial from $7.3 billion to $1.15 billion — still a very large sum.

Earlier this summer, a jury found Charter liable for the murder of an 83-year-old customer in 2019 and left it on the hook for more than $7.3 billion in punitive damages. The case involves a Charter employee, Roy Holden, who performed a service call at the home of Betty Thomas of Dallas, Texas. The day after the service call, Holden returned to her home while off-duty but wearing his Charter uniform and driving his work vehicle. When Thomas discovered Holden stealing her credit cards, he attacked her with a knife from his company toolbox. Holden subsequently pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced to life in prison last year.

Lawyers for Thomas’ family alleged Charter failed to verify Holden’s employment history and ignored statements he made indicating he was severely distressed about financial and family issues.

Charter says it conducted a thorough pre-employment criminal background check, which showed no arrests, convictions or other criminal behavior. And Holden had completed more than 1,000 service calls with zero customer complaints about his behavior.

Charter plans to appeal the verdict.

New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin wrote today, “We would not regard this award as final. Charter will almost certainly appeal the decision.” He noted that New Street’s policy analyst Blair Levin has previously predicted that even if the court of appeals agrees with the verdict, it will very likely lower the damages awarded further from here.

Based on Levin’s legal analysis, the court may ultimately follow precedent that would award a 1:1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages.

The jury originally ordered Charter to pay $337.5 million in compensatory damages. But even a 1:1 ratio would amount to $675 million, which would be a substantial hit to Charter, whose stock has been on a downhill trajectory throughout 2022.

In the second quarter Charter reported a loss of 21,000 internet customers.