Big Box, Small Heart: Wal-Mart Wins Judgment Against Brain Damaged Woman to Get Back Insurance Money

Wal-Mart has always been a target for many people who a monster corporation that strangles local stores and offers low-paying jobs with little benefits to locals. A story, however, in Jackson, Missouri has left many gasping. Wal-Mart has successfully sued Debbie Shank, a brain damaged former employee, for insurance money that she received before an award in a car accident case. Shank is not only struggling to survive but she lost her son recently in Iraq.

Shank, 52, was left with severe brain damage after a traffic accident in May 2000. She lost much of her short-term memory and left her in a wheelchair and living in a nursing home. She constantly asks about her son and when told that he is dead, she experiences the death as if for the first time due to her loss of memory — breaking down in tears.

Shank’s problems began when she started work for Wal-Mart to stock shelves. She joined the health plan, which paid out $470,000 for her total disability. However, two years after the accident, she and her husband won a $1 million judgment against the trucking company responsible for her injuries. Once fees and costs were paid, this resulted in just $417,000 being placed in a trust account for Debbie’s care. When Wal-Mart found out about it, they sued to get the money under a provision that said that the company could seek to recoup medical expenses if an employee collects any money in a lawsuit.

The Shanks didn’t notice in the fine print of Wal-Mart’s health plan policy that the company has the right to recoup medical expenses if an employee collects damages in a lawsuit.

Wal-Mart won and one week later, the Shanks son was killed in Iraq.

Many have wondered why the $90 billion business could not make a human judgment in this case, particularly given the fact that the money was not used in some scam or high living. Indeed, the Shanks had to divorce to get needed Medicaid money to continue to support Debbie. Jim, 54, is recovering from prostate cancer and has to work two jobs to pay the bills.

Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley, who called Debbie Shank’s case “unbelievably sad,” replied in a statement: “Wal-Mart’s plan is bound by very specific rules. … We wish it could be more flexible in Mrs. Shank’s case since her circumstances are clearly extraordinary, but this is done out of fairness to all associates who contribute to, and benefit from, the plan.”

Really? This is the first time that I heard of a company that MUST sue. One would hope that the brain-damaged-memory-impaired-son-killed-financially-struggling-woman-with-the-cancer-victim-husband case might not arise that often for Wal-Mart.

Notably, this store just lost an abusive trademark lawsuit designed that seemed designed to crush an Internet critic, click here.

For the full story, click here.

28 thoughts on “Big Box, Small Heart: Wal-Mart Wins Judgment Against Brain Damaged Woman to Get Back Insurance Money”

  1. Are the multinationals like Walmart so powerful (i.e. so in bed with a government that does not represent us) that the views of the public no longer matter? not to mention our votes.

  2. Frankly, I’m amazed — and appalled — that some people could seriously think that Debbie Shank purposely got into a traffic accident — with a SEMI, for crying out loud — just so she could get some money from her employer. Then, as JT pointed out, “scam Walmart” further by sitting in a nursing home in a wheelchair. Do they really believe we’re that stupid, to buy such a ridiculous story?

  3. Kermudgeon:

    It is my experience that no one knows the case better than the attorney who settled it, and that may have been the actual value given all of the factors in play. If the attorney made the overture to Walmart and was rebuffed as is indicated, that may be all he could do. I am always amazed at your willingness to assume the worst about your opponent and the best about your ideological brethren in the face or, as in this case, the absence of evidence.

  4. Wal-Mart is charged as the money-grubbers. not the attorney’s that did not fight for additional money to cover this woman’s need or the fact that the attorney’s admit they contacted Wal-Mart which meant that they should have read the fine print and know what to expect.

    The Shanks need to sue the attorney firm for malpractice. Not only did they not properly secure Debbie’s future financially, they failed to read the fine print in her health plan and make sure that they provided for a settlement that would not financially destroy the family.

    Shame on the attorneys that are attempting to blame Wal-Mart who is only mentioned because they at one time employed her.

  5. kermudgeon:

    Oh I see if you’ve committed an atrocious wrong you can always defend it by blaming the advocate for the victim who did his work to recoup the funds you are now claiming. How very neo-con.

  6. Well, the good news is the familie’s attorney gets to keep his cut which was over $317,000 so he wont’t have to sell his Bentley.

    I also find it interesting nobody here is demanding the attorney rebate his fees to the family to help them out, just big old greedy walmart.

    I think the family should sue their attorney for not telling them this could happen but that he would still his cut of their settlement.

    Sounds like we need more tort reform.

  7. niblet:

    And to think I just complimented you. Well let’s start with the obvious facts since you seem to need them. Walmart has a self-funded ERISA plan which means they control employee benefits through a trust fund. The trust fund has provisions for hardship waivers which Walmart certainly could have granted in this deserving case. No fiduciary duty would have been broken, and I hold out hope they may eventually get to that position. That would keep we “money hungry thieves” at bay for at least another day. Meanwhile, Walmart could have been perceived as the great benefactor and increased their sales revenues which they could have, in turn, given to the Republican candidates, who could have passed laws to subsidize their business, which would have driven out thousands of American small businesses, which would bring great smiles to your Republican brothers, who would vacation in the Virgin Islands, and would then wonder aloud “how the little people are doing?” That should explain it in terms that you undoubtedly can understand.

  8. Walmart has a group insurance policy for their employees. That policy has contractual provisions which I am sure all you ?bright? people understand.

    If Walmart looked the other way, dozens of attorneys would sweep down on them demanding Walmart make everybody whole that had subrogation benefits paid to Walmart, all just for 50% of the loot.

    Friggin darn attorneys. BUnch of money hungry thieves.

  9. CNN Anderson Cooper 360 is doing a story tonight at 10 p.m. EST about the Shank case. You can learn more and take action by going to:

    To those who are saying that Wal-Mart is just following a common policy, I want to point out that Wal-Mart funds their own health care plan so this is just another case of them not wanting to put more money into covering the health care of their workers.

  10. JT:

    I have found that with Wal*Mart public relations takes a back seat to profits most every time. Most corporations have found that negative public sentiment evaporates with time, and that very few long term consequences will be ever be seen. In a society that has lost any concept of shame or guilt, this is to be expected but we used to think our leaders, whether business or governmental, were better than that. Enron and its ilk have disabused us of that quaint notion however.

  11. whoolie,

    I woud need to take a whole bottle of phenergan before watching that spectacle.

  12. Wal-mart appears to believe the former employee has stolen from them. Employee theft is something they do not tolerate.


    Maybe the leader of the compassionate conservatives “comedian Rush Limbaugh” could demonstrate the obvious scam routine you think has been perpetrated like his mimic of Michal J. Fox.

  13. I was wondering if Wal-Mart gave a gift basket to their many plaintiffs. They said they had to pursue this lawsuit as a sacred duty to honor their contracts with their employees (a first for them). If they are going to argue this strongly that they absolutely MUST enforce employer/employee contracts then don’t they need to honor all the other parts of these contracts with equal vigor? If they find employees being forced to work overtime, isn’t it now their sacred duty to enforce that aspect of the contract and stop the practice while compensating those employees who were harmed in the contract breech?

  14. Mespo:

    I agree. There is no question that they have the right to sue and recover the money. However, this seems a remarkably stupid from a public relations (not to mention a human) standpoint. I would be surprised if counsel drove this decision as opposed to corporate. Well, at least I hope that an attorney would have tried to get this client to see the inequity of the situation.

  15. JT:
    I have dealt with Wal-Mart in these situations and they generally will work a deal if you get them before the filing of suit. I usually advise we will not pursue the suit unless we work out a deal in advance. That forces them to prosecute the matter and we can typically ride coat-tails as they pay for litigation costs, experts etc. They usually capitulate but I notice that here the plaintiff’s attorney tried to work a deal before hand without success. I find that strange given the magnitude of the injury and expected value of the claim.

  16. Indeed, DW. What amazes me is how scammers like Debbie will sit in nursing home for years just to eat up medical expenses.

  17. O.K., Wal-Mart has now recovered the money on “behalf” of all the low paid employees’ crappy health care plan. They have fulfilled their legal “obligation”. Now they should fulfill their moral one. If Wal-Mart executives are incredibly sad, they might take money from their own pockets to reimburse the legal fees and settlement of Mrs. and Mr. Shank. This action is low, even for Wal-Mart. I hope the bad publicity gets them to pay this money back.

    D.W. Nicely said! Don’t forget, keith is living with a “hottie”!

  18. “Typical liberals! Attacking Walmart again, even while you are wearing the clothes you bought there and eating the tv dinners you bought there too! This woman is an obvious scammer and is faking her injuries (as so many welfare types do) and you have sympathy for her?? A contract is a contract. She knew what she was getting into and now just wants to become a multimillionaire at all of our expense! Walmart is totally justified getting its money back and all you liberals can do is whine about unfair it all is. Maybe your hero Keith Dolbermann will do a story on it.


    Ok, niblet and kermudgeon, I saved you from having to write anything this morning!

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