Wal-Mart Backs Down in its Litigation Against Brain Damaged Former Employee

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.

13 thoughts on “Wal-Mart Backs Down in its Litigation Against Brain Damaged Former Employee”

  1. What part of “she shouldn’t have had to go to court” didn’t you understand? What part of “material misrepresentation” and “insurance fraud” didn’t you understand? What part of “victim” did you not get?

    Her attorney’s fees are not the issue.

    But for Wal-Mart’s wrongdoing, this woman would have never had to go to court.

    Enjoy your day job as a greeter, ogm, but I suggest shying away from legal analysis.

  2. This was a link from another WalMart story. After reading this blog and the replies, I have a question: The poor woman got a million dollar settlement but was left with only $417,000 because FEES and costs ate up 585,000 and WalMart is the only one exhibiting greed here?

  3. Yes, corporations do horrible things. Americans got enraged over this Wal-Mart story and Debbie Shank got her money back. That’s ONE person with TBI who got some money, out of 5.4 million survivors in this country!

    My point is that we, as human beings (rather than corporate entities), could do a lot more good by focusing our energy on helping each other, rather than complaining about companies that don’t “do the right thing”.

    We need more education and awareness of TBI’s. We need to try to make a real connection with each other!

  4. Hooray! We still are swearing off Wal Mart though. The Boss was fuming when I told her about this. If I ever step inside their door again I’ll find myself homeless.

  5. As a final thought on this topic of corporate social responsibility, I add the words of the founder of modern capitalism writing not in his magnum opus, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”, but in the more contemplative work, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”. Smith wrote:

    “As society cannot subsist unless the laws of justice are tolerably observed, as no social intercourse can take place among men who do not generally abstain from injuring one another; the consideration of this necessity, it has been thought, was the ground upon which we approved of the enforcement of the laws of justice by the punishment of those who violated them.”

    Vanquishing, I hope, the infuriating excuse for corporate irresponsibility that “it’s just business,” from the lexicon.

  6. Corporations are legal entities only. Their status is a legal fiction since there is no corporal body to indict or prosecute or sue. They act only through their agents and employees. They are the responsibility of their officers and directors, and their debts are ultimately paid by their stockholders. Anything else is corporate propaganda to avoid accountability.

  7. I’ve come to the conclusion that’s what corporation CEOs want us to BELIEVE, that there’s no one person that can be held accountable for anything the corporation does. But since we know THAT belief is a crock, we need to keep challenging and questioning their other ones. You know, the beliefs that they are “not responsible” when a defective product kills people, or a heartless corporation CEO (or whomever) makes the decision to sue an innocent person like Debbie Shank.

  8. Newsome:

    Should we really expect corporations to “do the right thing”? Bottom line: the ONLY responsibility corporations have is to turn a profit. That’s IT.


    Who run’s the corporations, robots?

  9. I think it’s time to move on, past all the finger-pointing and do what we can to help the real problems of this country. Should we really expect corporations to “do the right thing”? Bottom line: the ONLY responsibility corporations have is to turn a profit. That’s IT. They’re going to continue screwing over as many people as possible.

    This story should be motivation for each of us to do our part to educate ourselves about brain injury and further discuss the inadequacies in the realms of health insurance and treatment options.
    There are 5.4 million people in the US living with the effects of traumatic brain injury, and 1.5 million new injuries per year! Most of these people are suffering silently, ignored by the masses and getting no money at all to help treat their condition. Please visit my blog and join the discussion! http://www.brainandspinalcord.org

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