March 28th, 2008
04:40 PM ET

Wal-Mart Still Plans to Take Money from Brain-Damaged Woman

Two nights ago on AC360, I introduced you to Debbie Shank. She is a brain-damaged woman from Jackson, Missouri, who used to work for Wal-Mart.


Debbie Shank, 52, suffered severe brain damage after a traffic accident in May 2000.

In May of 2000, Debbie’s minivan was struck by a semi-truck and her brain received the brunt of the trauma. She now lives in a nursing home. Debbie was covered by Wal-Mart’s Health and Benefits Plan but after she settled with the trucking company that hit her, Wal-Mart sued her to get back the $417,000 it had paid out for her care.

What neither Debbie nor her husband, Jim Shank, noticed was a tiny clause in the health plan’s paperwork that said if Debbie settles with a third party for damages, which she did, Wal-Mart has a right to recoup the money it spent on her care.

All that’s left in the fund set aside to care for Debbie right now is $277,000 and she needs every penny of it. Her husband is working two jobs to care for her. She can’t function on her own and, because he has to work, he can't always care for her at home. He even divorced her so she could get more money from Medicaid. It gets worse. After they lost their first appeal in Missouri, their 18-year-old son was killed in Iraq. Debbie attended the funeral but because of her injuries, she doesn’t remember being there or even remember that her son is dead. She still asks for him. She doesn’t understand why she lives in a nursing home. It is no way to live...

Meanwhile, just last week, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the Shank’s final appeal. That means Wal-Mart can now collect every penny that is left in the fund. And the company apparently plans to do just that. 

I spoke with Debbie Shank’s lawyer, Maurice Graham, and he said Wal-Mart earlier this week told him, “they were sending down the paperwork so they can turn over the money.” Graham says he doesn’t think there’s a chance the company will change its mind because, “Wal-Mart worked too hard for it.” Graham hasn’t received the paperwork yet but when he does he says it will be “a matter of days” before Debbie Shank’s account set aside for her future health care is dry.

Ever since our story ran, and my original blog was posted, we here at 360 have been overwhelmed by viewer emails. Most are angry at Wal-Mart and vowing never to shop there again. Others want to help raise funds for the family. One man in Atlanta is planning a church fundraiser this weekend. The family’s attorney says he’s received so many emails he can’t answer them. And Jim Shank, Debbie’s husband, says his phone is ringing off the hook.

Today, Wal-Mart released a new statement, explaining its position: "This is a very sad case and we understand that people will naturally have an emotional and sympathetic reaction.  While the Shank case involves a tragic situation, the reality is that the health plan is required to protect its assets so that it can pay the future claims of other associates and their family members..."

Wal-Mart's statement continues, "Our benefit plan works like virtually every other health insurance plan. When our associates, or their family members, suffer injuries or medical conditions which are the responsibility of others, our plan steps in to pay covered medical expenses so associates and their families don't have to worry about their bills or have large out-of-pocket expenses. It is only after the associate or family member receives payment from the party responsible for causing the injury or accident that our health plan becomes entitled to reimbursement. These plans are funded by associate premiums and company contributions. Any money recovered is returned to the health plan, not to the business. This is done out of fairness to everyone who contributes to and benefits from the plan. The Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal of the case, which concludes all litigation. While Wal-Mart’s benefit plan was entitled to more than the amount that remained in the Shank trust, the plan only recovered the funds remaining in that trust."

Wal-Mart has no legal obligation to let Debbie Shank keep the money so she can afford healthcare. Does it have a moral obligation?  She took an overnight job stocking shelves for the company so she could spend more time with her family.  It didn't exactly work out that way.

– Randi Kaye, 360° CorrespondentProgramming note: See Randi's report on Anderson Cooper 360 at 10PM ET.

Filed under: Randi Kaye • Wal-Mart
soundoff (148 Responses)
  1. Nicci Milner

    Is there a charity or an address where one can send donations to the Shank couple? This is just deplorable on the part of Wal Mart, but not surprising I guess.
    If there is no charity for them at this point, is there something CNN can do to set one up? If you've had 1.8 million emails and if each one of those people donated a mere $10, this could change everything for them.
    I look forward to a reply or a posting somewhere.

    Thank you,

    Nicci Milner

    March 28, 2008 at 11:17 pm |
  2. Michelle

    I concur with thoughts of many on this issue. I too will boycott Wal-Mart and have already sent my friends and family an email of this story.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:16 pm |
  3. Stephanie

    I honestly do not see how the Waltons can face each day or sleep at night. They have to be just people made of STONE. There are obviously lots of lessons this family needs to learn about the world and why we are here instead of $$$$$. Learn to GIVE, CARE, HELP, LOVE, HAVE COMPASSION and actually mean it. The Waltons are in a great position to help and yet they chose the route of greed. So sad!

    March 28, 2008 at 11:15 pm |
  4. Peter May

    I am without words to describe my disgust for these callous, mean spirited "businessmen." In addition to her injuries, this poor woman lost her son in Iraq, a war I'm sure the Wal-Mart management supports.

    Her injuries have caused her to lose short term memory, so every time she asks about her son, she must be told again that he is gone. It is as if she is hearing it for the first time over and over again. I cannot imagine the pain that must cause.

    If these idiots do not come to their senses, grab a bit of humanity and stop this outrage. Now irony strikes home. Just now, CNN aired a piece on this story followed by a very nice ad for Target.

    Wal-Mart executives, you cannot be this cold and you certainly cannot be this stupid!! Your shareholders cannot be pleased to watch this on CNN night after night. Make it go away! Do the right thing for heaven's sake!! We shouldn't have to tell you this.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:15 pm |
  5. David

    The lawyers are the only ones who will benefit from the settlement awarded to the family. If I remember, you said the family's lawyer received $360,000 in fees, and Wal-Mart wants $400,000. Where's the justice and humanity in that? We've shopped regularly at Wal-Mart since it came to Canada. No more. It's too easy to ignore opportunities like these to make real choices - to consciously reflect on whether this represents the values we want to live and encourage in the world. We'll pay a little more and shop somewhere else.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:15 pm |
  6. Bob

    Anderson: Please keep the Debbie Shank/Wal-Mart story in the light. I will NEVER step into a Small-mart store again. Where can we contribute to the Shanks?


    March 28, 2008 at 11:14 pm |
  7. Ray in Hawaii

    I watch your show daily, and have already stated that I am in the "Shanks" position.
    This is the real Health Care / Insurance / Legal Dilemna ........

    Almost all situations like Debbie's and mine must go to trial. If Medical Care exceeds a million dollars or more, ( which is easy today when one surgury can cost 300 -400 k ), and future care can easily cost 100k or more – per year of life remaining,
    How does one justify the Trial Lawyers cost of 40 to 50%,
    if it is a hugh award to cover these expenses, People are outraged that the settlement was TOO BIG and HUGE ! ( Even if it might be legitimate. )
    So – How might you propose to solve this mess Anderson ?
    Ray in Hawaii.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:14 pm |
  8. rosmuc

    Where can I send a donation to this family? I was always uncomfortable shopping at walmart due to their poor employee practice, but this has pushed me way beyond uncomfortable to outright digusted! please post the address for donations. and please boycott walmart

    March 28, 2008 at 11:14 pm |
  9. Ron

    Yes this is tragic but no one has mentioned whether the family negotiated the original settlement with the trucking company or if they had a lawyer.

    If they had a lawyer and the lawyer knew about the payback to the health plan, and didn't negotiate a large enough settlement to cover it then they should be suing the lawyer.

    If they didn't have a lawyer then what can we say.

    There is no such thing as "just this one exception" to ignoring the payback requirement. Everyone from here on will expect the same thing, and soon the plan folds.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:13 pm |
  10. Gideon Ifianayi, Chicago, IL

    I Should mention I'll be returning some of the things I bought at Wal-Mart tomorrow!!!

    March 28, 2008 at 11:13 pm |
  11. Iranian Ajax

    Wal-Mart is a terrible corporation. No ethics whatsoever.

    Iranian Ajax

    March 28, 2008 at 11:13 pm |
  12. David

    WOW! I will drive out of my way, even with the high price of gas, to avoid shopping at Wal-Mart. NEVER again will I step foot in one of their stores. I hope others will hear this story and help send a message to this company; " We've had enough of your greed, take it somewhere else". You make me feel sick!

    March 28, 2008 at 11:13 pm |
  13. Marlene Linville

    I don't know how the owner of wal-mart can sleep at night knowing what they are doing to this woman & her family. First her life was taken away, now wal-mart wants to take away the money that it is now costing to take care of her.
    Shame on you wal-mart ! ! ! And if you cared at all, you would not be telling everyone that it is the right for the INSURANCE company to collect what is legally theres. Instead, it surely would'nt put a dent in your pocket to go ahead and pay the insurance company the money it is wanting to take from the Shanks family, instead, it would make people look up to the owner of wal-mart , for doing such a good deed, and actually, showing people that they DO have feelings.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:12 pm |
  14. Mandy, Marietta, OH

    Why is CNN the first place to air this family's story? Maybe other networks did, but tonight is the first I had heard of it.

    Anyway, I think everyone knows that Wal-Mart is quickly destroying the heart America. They have such a monopoly on everything! My husband is a farmer, so we hear the horror stories from farmers, flower growers and such. One poor soul was ecstatic to get a contract to supply Walmart's flowers for one season a few years back. One part of the contract stated that they would return flowers that died. This honest man thought, "Sure, if my flowers die, of course they should return them." Little did he realize, they didn't WATER them! So, they didn't sell, and Walmart got their money back. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer.

    Sadly, the Shanks' story is one of many. God bless America and to hell with Walmart!

    March 28, 2008 at 11:12 pm |
  15. Doug in Houston TX

    Typical Wal-Mart.

    I had pretty much stopped shopping there because almost all their merchandise comes from China. After seeing this report I am done with Wal-Mart. I will not spend another dime with them.

    Keep up the good work.


    March 28, 2008 at 11:12 pm |
  16. Robert

    I work at Walmart, and I have more of a reason to disagree with how Walmart treats its workers. In this case however, I believe Walmart is correct. First of all the mentioning of her son does nothing to the story but show emotional support for the mother, and distracts from the story. It should not be mentioned.

    If she did not agree with the medical coverage terms, she should have not signed up for it and look somewhere else.
    They should have made sure when they settled, they checked with the medical coverage books that WalMart provides its workers every year.

    Walmart will let the flood gates open if they allow a pass for her.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:12 pm |
  17. Rod Gaston

    My wife and I commend you for airing this heartfelt story about this Walmart brain damaged employee.

    We will never shop there again. I sent them an email informing them that we will share this story with our huge Church group.

    Keep up the fine job. We enjoy your show.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:06 pm |
  18. Susan Breeland

    I fired Walmart years ago and do not go into the store......and I will do everything I can, after hearing about what they are trying to do to Debbie Shank, to share the story and her plight that Walmart has caused.

    This can be considered undue harrasment of the helpless soles. Our Lord has put Debbie Shank where she is for a purpose, and maybe the purpose is to "Wake Up America" to the REAL Walmart!!

    A friend of mine was a former employee of Walmart when his terminal cancer struck him, and I know he was not treated fairly either, but he is no longer here to see this.
    I just hope this really hits the stockholders of Walmart and makes them wake up to the "real world".

    Never again to darken the doors of Walmart, and will share this story with everyone I know.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:06 pm |
  19. Scott

    Walmart has a wonderful return policy.
    I heard on CNN today that there were nearly 2 million pageviews on the Shank lawsuit article. May I suggest that the next 2 million people who read this find something in their home to return to Walmart. We can then write to Walmart that the reason for our returns is due to the way they handled The Shank family.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  20. passive resistance!

    Here is an idea that could turn the tables on Walmart via 'PASSIVE RESISTANCE' go to Walmart, shop as you normally would or would not, then when you get to the register at the front of the filthy store (literally) tell them you have changed your mind and you will not purchasing anything from Wal-Mart from this point forward due to how they have mistreated the Shank family! If enough people (hopefully millions) do this they will have to pay we much more than the settlement amount just to RESTOCK THE SHELVES!!!

    March 28, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  21. Michele

    Walmart may be legally in the right. but morally is totally wrong.
    A company, which clearly reports huge profits, should assist one of their own employees in a time of tradgedy. Walmart should pay the money due to the insurance carrier out of their profits, and in addition monatarily help this family. After all, the company can write some of these expenditure off as a charitable donation. I plan to boycott their store and will encourage all my friends and family to do the same. Tsk-tsk Walmart.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  22. susan

    The recoupment of medical payments by Wal-mart is a fairly standard procedure. It keeps the cost of premiums down for the employees also. This is a tragedy but Wal-mart is not at fault here. The injured women will have all here needs taken care of by medicaid now that her husband has divorced her.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  23. Julian

    For the benefit of you and the country, don't shop at Wal-Mart.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  24. Tim M

    I live in Canada. Thus far, we have many optional stores to buy our goods from here. I have always believed Walmart to be a non ethical company and have never shopped at a Walmart store. This story proves yet again that Walmart is not a good company for both the USA and Canada. I think it is an illusion that we get cheap prices at Walmart (at what cost are they offering us cheap products) and I think both countries could do with jobs that pay more than Walmart pays its employees. I think people are making a huge mistake shopping at Walmart and should avoid going to the stores at all costs. It is amazing what a company will do if you don't shop at their stores. Comsumers have more power than we think. We just can't be apathetic. We need to start giving our money and supporting other stores. It will be better for us as countries and for healthy competition.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  25. Susana

    It appears to me that the parties that were responsible for settling her claim did not complete their responsibilities by making sure that all liens were settled before releases were signed. Whether it was the insurance companies or the lawyers involved it seems they are accountable for how her claim was settled.

    Can't the ERISA lien be waived by the insurance company? ERISA only gives them the right to recover costs but not the obligation to pursue.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:04 pm |
  26. Donna

    I'm wondering the same thing as Susan. Is there someplace we can contribute to help this family? Is there a fund set up somewhere?

    March 28, 2008 at 11:04 pm |
  27. Karol/Reno, NV

    This story is shocking and heart wrenching. I cannot believe WalMart has let this happen to one of their past employees. Regardless whether she had a competent attorney this should never have occured. What an embarrasment this should be for WalMart. They should have never let this become the issue it is now.

    I don't know how much it will help to boycott t Walmart but I do hope they they recind the lawsuit and decide to help this family immediately.
    Forget Cigna as all insurance companies are fradulent.

    I will be happy to contribute funds to help this family as they deserve enough funds to help this poor woman for the rest of her life.

    THank you CNN for all of your input on this story.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:04 pm |
  28. Suzanne

    Unfortunately, this is the worst case of Wal-Mart's mistreatment and disregard for its employees, but not the first, nor, I'm sure, the last.

    Last year I vowed to not shop at Wal-Mart. I have broken that vow only twice, and even on those two occasions, I felt extremely guilty. After reading some articles online and doing some further research, I found out about the Shanks family, and their fight to hold onto the money needed to provide Debbie Shanks proper healthcare.

    It is a travesty. The company that tries to attract customers by touting low prices and American-made products, is ravaging their own employees. They are known for overworking employees but not paying overtime or hiring people for the most hours per week without having to offer healthcare.

    Hopefully, your coverage of this terrible situation will open the public's eyes.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:04 pm |
  29. Ray in Hawaii

    Wake Up EVERYONE !
    This does not surprise me ........ because I am in the same situation as Debbie Shank.
    I was in a bad auto accident, and now must sue the driver that hit me. I will probably need 3 or more surgurys, cost a million dollars or more, and I have not worked for 2 years now because of it.
    My Lawyer told me that I would have to pay him 40 to 50 %, and any balance "won or awarded" at trial, goes to pay back to any medical supplier that has provided services to me. So –
    That leaves me with a big nothing ! Only – lost savings, lost living and care expenses, possibly losing my home, and the inability to work, and being finally "approved" for Social Security Disability. All because the person behind me failed to stop at a stop sign.
    Its the Systems fault ! Its the way our "fine" system is designed to operate. – and protect the Corporate interests and line the Trial Lawyers pockets with hugh payments !

    March 28, 2008 at 11:03 pm |
  30. Aditi

    It'd be unfortunate if Wal-Mart stock-holders sold all their Wal-Mart stock right now and donated the money to this family...unfortunate but effective, perhaps.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:03 pm |
  31. Mark DMarco

    You'll never see me at wall mart! and hopefully anyone else I can tell about this story! How can I send some money? Mark

    March 28, 2008 at 11:03 pm |
  32. Suzanne

    What can we do contact Wal Mart or boycott Wal Mart if they actually go ahead and take the Shank's money? I am appalled.

    I am going to Wal-Mart's website to tell them what I think. I'm also going to boycott their store.

    I cannot believe their greed.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:02 pm |
  33. lanalee

    maybe Walmart has the legal right but what about the moral right.

    boycott Walmart for 2 weeks. enough where they feel it but that way you won't have to worry about your own pocket book. Because if it happened to her it could happen to you.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:02 pm |
  34. G. Morefield

    If One point Eight Million people posted negative comments, they could help in two easy ways. 1) Donate One dollar each, and 2) Boycot Wal-Mart. Very Easy.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  35. oscar perez

    Wal-Mart! I will never ever shop in that hole again. And I will make sure every one I come in contact with will know about this story.

    Wal-Mart how much did you pay your lawyers for this law suit? You should’ve given this family the money!!!!!!

    You’ve made a big mistake. How are you going to fix this?

    March 28, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  36. jerry frankel

    this story breaks my heart. as a doc, I have taken care of the uninsured, the underinsured & the insured, many of whom have gone bankrupt by medical bills besides suffering in silence with serious illness &/or disability. every other developed nation has national health insurance. people's health are not left in the hands of a Walmart, but those of the society at large. This is not a mere Walmart story. Insurers dump sick pts on technicalities all the time. We see people today losing their pensions, their benefits, their homes. we need a safety net. we need leaders based on the principles of the New Deal, S. S. & Medicare-broad safety nets because bad things happen to almost everyone during a lifetime.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  37. LJ

    I am so saddened to think that although Walmart is within the law to excerise their right...since they won the judgement...that they would ever consider such inhumane treatment.

    They have many creative measures to work around this situation without hurting the benefits to their other employees but they chose to go after this poor woman and her family.

    It is bad enough what's happened to her, but the loss of her son who fought for all of us, including you WalMart...you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    And then, for her husband to have to divorce her to be able to receive some kind of benefits through Medicaid for her care.... what does that say.

    This is tragic on so many levels and the lack of compassion by this corporate giant is disgusting.
    And yes, it wouln't matter whether you read the fine print or not...the only way to receive benefits from one's employer is to sign. So, if you want no insurance coverage at all...then don't sign. Most all policies have what's called subrogation clauses so that is not uncommon or unusual.

    We are done with Wal-Mart. I wouldn't even consider spending another penney there.

    And WalMart, I hope you feel great about the choices you have made. And although I understand you are within your're legal rights....you are surely not within moral rights by most peoples standards.

    My prayers go to the Shank family and I hope by the Grace of God, Walmart will reconsider their decision and let Debbie live with what dignity she still has left.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  38. Lynda Zigler

    For what it's worth, I will never buy another thing from Wal-Mart for as long as I live.

    I'm not 100% positive whether it was A&E, Biography or The History Channel, but one of them did a two (2) hour expose on Wal-Mart and I was disgusted. Truth be told, I just refused to believe it, but now, this latest example of their sheer unadulterated greed repulses me.

    If a petition is started, please add my name to it. Maybe, if a boycott was started, we could get the money grubers attention that way. When they open their hands to take the money from this unfortunate woman, maybe more money will fall out of their hands (because they will be losing business). I think it's call hitting them where it hurts.

    Good work in bringing this travesty to our attention.

    Lynda – Greenbelt, Maryland

    March 28, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  39. DGSadler

    WalMart management again shows how incredibly tone deaf they are.

    How does WalMart management go into their Board and justify $50 million in bad publicity.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  40. susan

    Did the family attorney get paid?

    March 28, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  41. Zena

    Instead of giving a donation. BOYCOTT WALMART. SPREAD THE WORD. I have shopped there for so long I cannot remember but I will NEVER go there again. That is just horrible and totally uncalled for. Just Say No to Walmart.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  42. Mary

    Even though Walmart may have the legal right to do this they should do the moral thing by donating money to this woman's care. After all she was an employee. But, sadly, my experience with Walmart is that they are, first and foremost, interested in "the bottom line" and profits and will fight til the finish. They don't care about their employees or who gets hurt in the process.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  43. Melissa

    I have avoided Wal-Mart for several years because of what I deem to be unethical employment practices, but I never thought they would stoop this low. I hope this helps open the eyes of current Wal-Mart shoppers. It's just not worth supporting such a greedy, heartless corporate monster to save a few dollars on your shopping bill. Maybe we should be factoring in the social costs of supporting them as well as the financial ones.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:00 pm |
  44. nathaniel

    Sam Walton made a statement ,It states that "there is only one boss in a company that is the customer .Any one in a company from the chair person on down can be fired by customers spending there money else where."
    Lets make it happen ! Then Walmart will really need the 470thousand dollars.

    March 28, 2008 at 11:00 pm |
  45. AJ from MA

    I'm just sickened, and yet everyone makes fun of Michael Moore as he highlights corporate and political greed? What is it going to take for people to get more than laugh or at best get angry but actually take meaningful action. I for one will not shop at Walmart again. Do you have an address that one can mail a donation to the Shank family?
    Thank you

    March 28, 2008 at 10:59 pm |
  46. Roland

    Listen all one has to do is relay this story to all the employees of wal-Mart in an act of solidarity for their fellow worker and to themselves they should walkout of work and protest this action because this shows a lack of respect to the people who help them earn millions if not billions of dollars a year that they can not even help their employee instead they sue..so if any one reads this lets set a date and tell every employee that we know of walmart to not work on that date. i say we set the date as sunday may 11 because everyone has a mother and we all know we do not want to loose our mom but also she had a son who died in Iraq, so she bore a great hero who fought and died for us!!! defending us as a nation.....thanks you Roland

    March 28, 2008 at 10:58 pm |
  47. Shah

    It's a shame when a corporation that only cares about money takes that to the ultimate limit. I will never shop at Wal-Mart again...

    March 28, 2008 at 10:58 pm |
  48. Nina Webb/ Indiana

    I have a daycare, and every other week, I go to Walmart to buy my grocery items, I spend an average of $350.00 and once a month I go to Sam's Club to buy items in bulk for the coming month, I spend an average of $200 here.
    But after hearing this story, even though I have worked at Walmart two times, I never thought they would stoop this low.
    Yes, legally it might be theirs to obtain. But I met Sam Walton, he had morals, and he believed in treating people right. If he were alive today, this story would not be printing like it is.
    I have said before over other issues, that I would stop shopping at Walmart, but then the ease of having everything right there, plus the cheaper prices, I have gone back.
    Not this time, this time I am shocked, and ashamed that I have worked for a company that would treat their employee like this. Not to even mention that their son died defending our country!
    Stand together and everyone unite, ban Walmart and don't back down from your decision.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:58 pm |
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