It appears that the national outcry over Wal-Mart’s litigation against Deborah Shank — a brain-damaged former employee — has forced the giant corporation to back off. It will no longer try to collect $400,000 from Shank and her cancer-victim husband.
The company chose April Fool’s Day to send a letter to Shank that it has decided to drop its effort to take money that she won in an injury lawsuit against a trucking company that left her brain damaged.
Wal-Mart’s top executive for human resources, Pat Curran, simply said that the company spontaneously decided to reexamine its policy in the case — not mentioning media stories condemning the heartless litigation campaign against the Shanks. The problem, of course, is that the store forced this family to litigate this case while trying to pay bills and grieve for a lost son. It was not the humanity but the publicity that drove the change of heart. For the full story, click here.
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.
Now, it appears that the company has found that bullying families like the Shanks can impact their bottom line: the only apparent concern. No one in the company appears to have had the decency to lift a finger to prevent this abuse of a family struggling to survive while grieving for a dead son. This is much like decision of the federal Bureau of Prisons to allow a dying girl to see her father before she died — but only after a torrent of criticism in the media. Click here.
The company can now turn its attention to the lawsuit brought by the United States for refusing to rehire a veteran, click here.