Telecoms aren’t exactly known for superior customer service. Beleaguered customers have come to hopelessly accept full day-long service time windows, endless support line phone roundabouts, and increasingly offensive hidden fees as uncomfortable realities required to squeeze out basic necessities from borderline monopolistic companies. But hey, at least working with these companies won’t literally kill you.
Shit, I guess you know where this is going.
On Tuesday, Connecticut-based telecom giant Charter Communications was found liable for over $7 billion in damages after a Texas court ruled it was responsible for one of its technician’s robbing and murdering an elderly customer.
The horrific murder reportedly occurred in 2019 and involved an 83-year-old woman named Betty Thomas. Roy Holden Jr, the Charter technician, reportedly provided services for the woman after she called in reporting issues with her TV bundle. The technician reportedly returned the next day in an official Spectrum van wearing his company uniform, stole credit cards from the woman’s purse, and commenced to murder her. Thomas was reportedly found dead in her living room by one of her family members. Holden, meanwhile, was eventually arrested and sentenced to life in prison in April 2021.
The case didn’t end with Holden though. Thomas’ family sued Charter for negligence back in 2020. During the ensuing trial, The Register notes, it was revealed Holden had a history of stealing credit cards from elderly Spectrum customers and had previously complained to his employers of enduring economic hardship following a divorce. Making matters worse, Thomas’s family was reported billed $58 for the service that ultimately resulted in Betty Thomas’ brutal murder.
Jurors ultimately agreed that Charter’s actions or lack of actions, were the “proximate cause” of Thomas’ death, and the firm was found 90% responsible for Thomas’ death. That judgment, in addition to evidence Charter reportedly refused to correct its negligent safety practices for years, ultimately led to the combined $7.37 billion verdict.
“This was a shocking breach of faith by a company that sends workers inside millions of homes every year,” Chris Hamilton, one of the trial lawyers representing the Thomas family said in a statement. “The jury in this case was thoughtful and attentive to the evidence. This verdict justly reflects the extensive evidence regarding the nature of the harm caused by Charter Spectrum’s gross negligence and reckless misconduct.”
In a statement sent to Gizmodo, Charter disagreed with the court’s ruling and argued that the majority of the blame should lie with Holden individually. The spokesman claimed the events were not “foreseeable” and that the plaintiff’s claims of wrongdoing were “categorically false.”
“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,” the spokesman 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 company spokesman said Charter planned to appeal both rulings.
“Our hearts go out to Mrs. Thomas’ family in the wake of this senseless and tragic crime,” the spokesman said. “The responsibility for this horrible act rests solely with Mr. Holden, who was not on duty, and we are grateful he is in prison for life. While we respect the jury and the justice system, we strongly disagree with the verdict and will appeal.”