March 25th, 2008
04:41 PM ET

Brain-damaged woman at center of Wal-Mart suit

Debbie Shank, 52, has severe brain damage after a traffic accident in May 2000... Jim Shank, 54, works two jobs and divorced his wife so she'd receive more money from Medicaid.

JACKSON, Missouri (CNN) - Debbie Shank breaks down in tears every time she's told that her 18-year-old son, Jeremy, was killed in Iraq.

Even though the 52-year-old mother of three attended her son's funeral - she continues to ask how he's doing. When her family reminds her that he's dead - she weeps as if hearing the news for the first time.

Shank suffered severe brain damage after a traffic accident nearly eight years ago that robbed her of much of her short-term memory and left her in a wheelchair and living in a nursing home.

It was the beginning of a series of battles - both personal and legal - that loomed for Shank and her family. One of their biggest was with Wal-Mart's health plan.


Filed under: Randi Kaye • Wal-Mart
soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. Maggie

    Even if Walmart is legally bound to sue for this money – there's certainly nothing stopping this conglomerate from donating money to the family as a charity. I don't see them doing anything like this.

    I don't like Walmart's policies about a lot of things, but this takes the cake. I don't think I'll be shopping there anymore either.

    March 26, 2008 at 7:35 am |
  2. Doug

    Our family discussed this yesterday, and we unanimously decided to boycott WalMart. My wife suggested we also transfer our prescriptions. We have already started shopping at other stores. It costs a tiny bit more, but we feel nauseous saving money at her expense. We will have nothing to do with WalMart until they change their policy and give up all current and pending claims.

    March 26, 2008 at 6:24 am |
  3. Jacqui Chan

    This is the saddest story I have heard in a long time. Walmart is a horrible company: the public should band together and not shop at their stores.

    March 26, 2008 at 3:02 am |
  4. Brian Miller

    It makes me laugh how people are saying Wal-Mart is a soul-sucking mega corporation and in the same breath say that you will switch to Target – anonther sould sucking mega corporation.

    Americans – you make me howl. You guys are so materialistic you can no longer see how hypocritical you have become. Why shoul Wal Mart pay when the family is going to be compensated by the person/company who injured her? The rest of Wal Mart employees' rates go up if they have to fork out for injuries caused by someone else.

    I also think the people who are slamming the Shank's lawyers need to go back to elementary school and take grade 2 math again. Follow along with me now people:

    $1,000,000 (settlement)
    -$ 470,000 (medical expenses)
    -$ 417,000 (in trust)
    =$ 123,000 (legal expenses)

    Sure $123,000 seems high, but remember they wouldn't have got the million without the lawyers in the first place and there have been several appeals since then. If you have a problem with the figures I suggest you complain that the $1,000,000 wasn't enough. In today's world of overpriced health care, $1,000,000 doesn't go very far, I'm afraid.

    It sucks! It's sad! But, it is hardly Wal Mart's fault. I'm not a fan of Wal Mart by any means. Wal Mart is guilty of plenty of dubious practices, but this is a media-created scandal. Shame on CNN for appealing to American hearts instead of American heads.

    March 25, 2008 at 10:56 pm |
  5. David C, New York, NY

    PEG: the exact figure is a NET of 90 BILLION! A NET not a gross! That is pure profit!!!!

    March 25, 2008 at 10:52 pm |
  6. Jessica

    Since I read the story about this poor family I have not and will not be shopping at walmart any longer and I will be telling this story to as many of my friends as I possibly can. This is one of the worst stories I've heard in a long time and it makes me sick.

    March 25, 2008 at 10:25 pm |
  7. David C, New York, NY

    Wal-Mart made something like 90 Billion dollars last year! 90 BILLION!!! They do not need the $470,000 back from this family. Nor should the employees as co-group members be paying for it... WAL-MART SHOULD BE. They can afford it.

    March 25, 2008 at 10:21 pm |
  8. Tommy

    Another reason to stay out of the two faced company. Wal-Mart once again turns my stomach. The top executives dine on the best food and drinks money can buy and this tragic story shows what scum they really are! That $470K is probably only a small portion of one of their executive bonus. Corporate America Screws another middle class family. I hate Wal-Mart the evil corporation even more. Sure is interesting that the link to the corporate site is not working on their website.

    March 25, 2008 at 10:11 pm |
  9. Peg

    To Ken–

    $90 billion in SALES does not equal $90 billion in profits. Economics 101. This is the kind of ignorance that drives the tort system.

    March 25, 2008 at 10:05 pm |
  10. Peg

    The Shanks' story is very, very sad. But WalMart is bound by federal law to treat everyone according to the terms of the health care plan it has established; it cannot provide special treatment to the Shanks because their son died in Iraq.

    Recoupment of lawsuit awards by the health insurer is standard and has been standard for decades. The insurer agreed to pay medical expenses NOT otherwise paid for–in this case, the trucking company paid for the medical expenses in the judgment. The Shanks should have had a brighter lawyer structure the settlement differently.
    Medicaid will also recoup the health care costs it pays if a recipient ends up getting a tort award.

    As it stands, Medicaid will provide–at taxpayer expense–all the medical care Mrs. Shanks needs.

    "We didn't read the fine print" is a nonsensical argument and I'm tired of it. Just because someone has suffered a series of tragedies doesn't mean that someone else (in this case, WalMart) has a moral obligation to be the deep pocket.

    Finally, this is undoubtedly another piece being publicized by the anti-WalMart (union) folks.

    March 25, 2008 at 9:59 pm |
  11. Josie

    I will not be buying at Wal Mart any more–and I mean EVER!! If this was a foreign corporation we'd have Senators making an overseas phone call. Wal mart–this is MY phone call!

    March 25, 2008 at 9:40 pm |
  12. Little Lance

    Maybe it is time to boycott Wal-Mart for human rights violations.
    Besides they are going to spend a half a million dollars in lawyer fees just to recover a couple hundred thousand. It seems common sense and decency have once again flown the coop. I vow as of today to never spend one more cent at Wal-Mart.

    March 25, 2008 at 9:26 pm |
  13. Gary

    I haven't set foot in a Wal-Mart in over seven years and plan to keep it that way.

    Many of my friends work at Wal-Mart and some of the horror stories about how employess are treated are inexcusable.

    Where is George Bush's government now?

    March 25, 2008 at 9:01 pm |
  14. Annie Kate

    Unfortunately most insurance policies are structured this way. Its not so much Wal-mart as it is the insurance company unless Wal-mart is self-insuring. I feel for this family; I'm disabled and know the worries that occur daily to ensure that there is proper care and that the rest of the family is taken care of – especially the children that have not yet gone to college.

    Wal-Mart like most corporations publicize the charitable donations they make each year – couldn't they find it in their hearts to consider this money as a charity donation to a former employee who through no fault of her own can no longer work ? The goodwill such an action would generate would probably far outweigh the money they are trying to collect back.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    March 25, 2008 at 8:57 pm |
  15. Janis

    I can fully understand about Wal-Mart. Five years ago, my handicapped, twenty year old son who has been in a wheelchair all his life from Spina Bifida was run over in the crosswalk at Wal-Mart by a Wal-Mart employee who was driving an Explorer that he had purchased about 3 months prior. He was talking on a cell phone. He did not have insurance, inspection sitckers, tag, nor drivers' license. He hit my son and totaled his new wheelchair. He dragged him for twenty-three feet after he tore the front wheel off his wheelchair. We know this because the metal that attached the wheel to the chair dug into the parking lot for 23 feet. It took about ten feet to tear the wheel off before it began digging in the blacktop. My son was trying to hold the SUV off of him with his hands. He was strapped in the chair by his seatbelt. This vehicle totally destroyed his chair. If you had seen it when they brought it to me on a pallet and a fork lift, you would have wondered how he survived. He was skinned from head to toe and had shoulder problems for about 2-3 years.
    Anyway, to get to the point, Wal-Mart was NOT responsible in any way. And my lawyer did all of his work for free. I was the only person responsible for anything! My uninsured motorist insurance had to pay for all his medical expenses and I had to buy him a new electric wheelchair (about 8,000).
    I don't understand and NEVER WILL. This boy should have at least had to follow me home and see how I had to get my son home had to hire an ambulance He should have had to live with us and see that my son had to lay in his bed for 11 days because I could not get him a chair. I do NOT understand what our country is coming to.
    And on top of all this, the police let him drive the vehicle away. And son's health insurance would not buy him a new chair until it had been five years. We are just this week (after 5 years) getting a new chair that his insurance will pay for.
    I don't think Sam Walton ever meant for Wal-Mart to become the monster they have. But they have become one..........
    Janis in Philadelphia, MS

    March 25, 2008 at 8:42 pm |
  16. David C, New York, NY

    I find this whole story unreal. WalMart should be ashamed! There is a time to throw policy out the door...I am a business owner and employer of 35 people... we give our employees the day off if a beloved pet dies! But this situation takes it to a whole new level..I am tempted to stop shopping at WalMart!!!!

    March 25, 2008 at 8:38 pm |
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