One day after Betty Jo McClain Thomas had her fax machine serviced, the repairman returned. He wasn’t there on behalf of his employer Charter Communications, but he was driving his work truck.
Thomas let the repairman in, and he killed her.
Now, her family and the jury in the case want the cable company to pay for the horrible incident — to the sum of $7 billion.
What mistakes did the cable company make to lead to such a large payout?
A Criminal Conviction in the Murder of Betty Thomas
In December 2019, Betty Jo McClain Thomas was having trouble with her fax machine. She called Spectrum, which is owned by Charter Communications, to send a technician to her home in Dallas, Texas. A technician came to her home and seemed to have fixed the problem, but he showed up again the next day.
The technician, Roy James Holden Jr, was not on the clock, but he was driving his work vehicle. Thomas let him in the house. Holden then robbed and murdered the 83-year-old grandmother.
The details of Thomas’s death are not disputed.
As reported by USA Today, Thomas’s family went to check on her after she failed to show up to a Christmas and birthday dinner. They found her dead on the living room floor. Her Ring camera showed a Spectrum repairman as the last person to enter her home.
Holden pled guilty to the murder of Thomas and was sentenced to life in prison.
But, the family wanted more justice for Thomas. They didn’t want her case to be settled through the criminal courts alone, so they sued Charter in civil court.
A Civil Case in the Murder of Betty Thomas
Thomas’s family sued for wrongful death in a civil case against Charter. They believe that Charter could have prevented Thomas’s death and allege that Charter’s negligence is what led to Thomas’s murder.
The family says Charter had multiple reasons to have stopped sending Holden on field calls. In fact, they believe Holden never should have been hired in the first place.
According to the family, Charter admitted that they didn’t verify Holden’s past employment. If they had checked into his references, they would have learned that he lied and Holden would have not been hired.
Court records also show that Holden had received multiple disciplinary actions from Charter. The actions were a result of taking pictures of the driver’s licenses and credit cards of two elderly female customers. Charter also had records that showed signs of Holden’s instability. He asked his manager for money and had requested mental health intervention from Charter’s employee assistance program.
The civil case went to trial, and the jury decided to hold Charter accountable in the case. In June 2022, the jury awarded $337.5 million in compensatory damages to Thomas’s family, and they didn’t stop there.
What Led to $7 Billion in Punitive Damages?
A few months after the jury awarded $337.5 million in compensatory damages, they awarded an additional $7 billion in punitive damages.
The murder took place in Texas and is being litigated under Texas law. In Texas, punitive damages are also known as exemplary damages, and they are defined by Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code §40.011(5). Punitive damages are often intended to penalize or punish the party at fault in a civil suit. They may be used as a deterrent to prevent future bad behavior.
The high award could be a reaction to some of the dubious behavior committed by Charter that was exposed during the trial.
Details emerged that Charter sent an overdue bill for $58.94 to Thomas to charge for Holden’s service call. The bill was then sent to a collection agency, according to USA Today.
Attorneys representing Thomas’s family also showed evidence that Charter tried to force the family into arbitration. They tried to prove that Thomas had agreed to terms of service which included an arbitration agreement. But their evidence was disproved.
They claimed Thomas checked a box online agreeing to the terms, but it was proven that she paid her bill online. They also claimed Thomas signed a work order agreeing to the terms, but it was proven to be a forged document.
If the family would have been forced into arbitration, the settlement would have been the equivalent of Thomas’s final bill, which was about $200.
Charter plans to appeal the verdict.
Get Justice for Your Loved Ones
If the negligence of a company or person caused harm to one of your loved ones, you can hold the at-fault party accountable. Talk to a wrongful death attorney about how you can seek justice for your loved one. TJ Grimaldi is ready to fight for you and your family.