Charter must pay murder victim's family $1.15 billion, Texas judge rules

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) - Charter Communications must pay $1.15 billion to the family of an 83-year-old woman who was murdered by one of its off-duty cable technicians, a Texas judge has ruled.

Judge Juan Renteria in Dallas County on Monday reduced a jury verdict of more than $7 billion handed down in July following a trial.

A representative for the Stamford, Connecticut-based company said in a statement that the responsibility for the murder rested solely with the technician, who was not on duty.

"While we respect the jury and the justice system, we strongly disagree with the verdict and will appeal," it said.

A lawyer for the family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Family members of the victim, Betty Thomas, alleged in their 2020 lawsuit that Charter was negligent in hiring technician Roy Holden, and that a thorough background check would have shown he lied about his work history.

According to lawyers for the family, Holden went back to Thomas's house the day after he visited for a service call, using a company vehicle both times. He allegedly stabbed Thomas after she found him stealing credit cards from her wallet.

The family also said the company ignored "red flags" about Holden, including pleas to upper management about his severe financial distress, and that after the incident, it tried to use a forged document to get the family's claims into private arbitration rather than court.

A jury agreed that the company was liable and awarded $7.37 billion, of which $7 billion was punitive damages, according to a statement from the family's law firm in July.

Holden pleaded guilty to the murder in April 2021 and was sentenced to life in prison, according to local news outlets.

Shares in Charter Communications closed down 2.5% at $362.94 on Tuesday after the decision, a second consecutive day of declines.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Cynthia Osterman)