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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.

ALT TEXT

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. Todd

    Wal-mart: legally right; ethically bankrupt.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:43 pm |
  2. Ben

    Walmart, If you have the ability to help this women, why don't you?

    March 28, 2008 at 10:42 pm |
  3. Jack R.

    Why do we, as Americans, always point the finger somewhere else?

    Walmart, albeit not a favorite store of mine, is clearly in the right to recoup monetary compensation for FUTURE employees.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:41 pm |
  4. Karen from California

    Shop Target!

    March 28, 2008 at 10:39 pm |
  5. Charles Jr

    Walmart says that they are taking this action because – of fairness to all of the other employees in the insurance plan.

    Well, what would Walmart do if those employees in the insurance plan VOTE and Decide what should be done.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:38 pm |
  6. Karen from California

    I will no longer shop at Wal-Mart. They are an evil company, how much money do they need? They could donate the money to them if they must win! My money will no longer contribute to their profits. I'd rather shop at Target and pay a little higher prices.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:38 pm |
  7. Jackie

    What is an address for the Shanks? So all of us – who care – can send donations to the family? Their church or local bank – could set up a fund?
    As for Walmart – we all have a tremendous power – the power of our wallets. We get to choose – where to spend our hard earned dollars. Flood Walmart's Corporate Email Box with your sentiments about this horrible decision. I have.
    My prayers go to the family and my check will too – if someone will give us an address or fund to donate to...Randi?

    March 28, 2008 at 10:36 pm |
  8. Proud Parent

    My 10 year old son and I watched the program and were both highly disappointed. A huge Corporation such as WalMart should be ashamed of themselves. My son, said "Mom, people should stop going to Wal-Mart and protest." ...Enough said.

    Proud Parent

    March 28, 2008 at 10:35 pm |
  9. martha

    The story about Debbie Shank is just too tragic for words. The actions of Wal Mart are simply cruel and tyrannical. They have always had a reputation for treating their employees in an unfair manner. I have been consistent in my refusal to shop there! These recent acts of brutality simply strengthen my resolve! Wal-Mart need to remember that even though their actions may be legal, they are totally immoral! Wal Mart had the opportunity to choose an act of kindness and mercy. They turned their backs! Shame!!

    March 28, 2008 at 10:35 pm |
  10. JJR Georgia

    To EJ in Ohio..ever heard of K Mart?? Family Dollar, Dollar General, Aldi's, Big Lots, Target, etc, etc, etc. If you look around, Wal Mart Is NOT the only store in town.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:35 pm |
  11. Alex Alexander

    Wal Mart is not known as an ethical company for fairness with their employees. That they want to take money back from this employee should be enough to ban Wal Mart from our shopping. Cheaper is not best when unfair big time attorneys try to hurt the little employee. Shame on you Wal Mart.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:33 pm |
  12. w.

    The original Father of Walmart "Sam" would not let this get to the stage asking for money back. In fact he would have not only written this off as a charitable fee but would be concerned about a fellow employee and help raise funds for this lady. What kind of sons are you!

    March 28, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
  13. Steven H

    My heart goes out for the Shanks in their time of need; however, making Walmart out to be a morally corrupt entity based on a policy which is a more common place practice of companies is entirly well, crap newesreporting. Be thankful this corporation has a medical plan (which is better then mine and cost much less) to help these people in their initial time of need.

    The focus of this story should be on a family in need and point American families in a direction where they can help such families. American for Americans.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
  14. Lisa

    We can Wal*Mart is greedy, callous; we'll never shop there again, etc. but I don't hear anyone insisting the lawyer give back a portion of his minimum 1/3 (or 40% – I think pretty industry-standard) fee for getting these people such a lousy settlement. (I wonder if it's the same attorney representing them on this Wal*Mart suit or a different one - wonder if that attorney is taking a fee ...) I don't see anyone asking the trucking company to step up – since it was there fault to begin with and volunteer to reimburse the costs.

    Wal*Mart isn't the only bad guy in this scenario. There is plenty of blame to go around.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:29 pm |
  15. Matthew Brown

    This is honestly sick and inhuman. When Wal-mart could be donating there billions of dollars to third world countries and try to reduce poverty in America and around the world, they instead take away money from a brain damaged woman.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:27 pm |
  16. Karen

    Of all of the stories that I have ever read on CNN.com, this is truly the most disgusting of them all. Greed has no limits. Shame on you, Walmart, but I am not surprised by your actions. You think you represent the "all-american" spirit? So sad.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:20 pm |
  17. Beverly HaynesLove

    Despite the sadness of the situation, what is fair is fair. Other employees put into that fund also. They have a right to future care if needed. If the money is not there for them when they paid into it how fair can that be to their families.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:19 pm |
  18. gene

    Perhaps Wal Mart should be reminded of the Army-McCarthy hearings:Have you no sense of decency?

    March 28, 2008 at 10:19 pm |
  19. Ian

    Anderson...God bless you all for doing this story..I am in Canada and would love to help this family out..I need to know how I can send $100.00 to these people..I will make sure that all furure Wal-Mart shopping on my part will be very limited limited or will cease entirely.

    Ian in Vancouver

    March 28, 2008 at 10:19 pm |
  20. Ray hanam

    This same thing happened to me about 10 years ago got hit by car while ridding bike.. Used Wal Mart ins. got a settlement and still owed wal mart about 5,000 dollars I was out of work for a year and a half because of this accident. I too did not read the small fine print at the end of ins papers where it said Wal mart has the right to get back any and all that was paid for medical bills well a lot was not covered and with the small settlement I ended up with had to pay the insurence back. It stinks by the way I had a laywer for this also and he fought for three years but they (Wal Mart) never gave in

    March 28, 2008 at 10:18 pm |
  21. jay

    ...just wanted to add my name to the list of those outraged by this!!!

    March 28, 2008 at 10:07 pm |
  22. Patty

    I am no longer giving Walmart my business.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:03 pm |
  23. Gaurav jain

    SHAME ON WALMART !!!
    That reminds me of another dreaded company from past that looted many people and countries of there rights, wealth and well being – the infamous EAST INDIA COMPANY...... these hopeless corporates driven by hungry, cynical, and over ambitious managers is no less than the colonial aspiration of past.......... My well wishes and prayers for SHANK family please pass on their address want to make a petty contribution.
    A son dies for his country and the greedy company pays back by snatching the purse from the mother. This is defintely not the much talked about American way.........SHAME SHAME SHAME

    March 28, 2008 at 9:23 pm |
  24. EJ - Ohio

    You all make me feel guilty about shopping there but for me there is no other place that is cheaper. Cheap prescriptions (esp w/out insurance), cheap food, cheap clothes, other cheap items that I sometimes buy for family, etc.

    I don't like what Walmart did, but they are very very hard to boycott.

    March 28, 2008 at 9:06 pm |
  25. Annie Kate

    Randi

    Thank you for keeping us updated on the story. I still cannot believe how callous Wal-mart is on this case. We have already taken our shopping to another store.

    Its wonderful that people want to help with contributions but someone needs to determine if Walmart can take the new contributions as well since the bank account doesn't have the full settlement Walmart was awarded. It would be a shame to contribute money to the family only for Walmart to turn around and take it too. Perhaps Jeffrey Toobin could answer the question about if this is possible.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    March 28, 2008 at 8:46 pm |
  26. Lorraine

    After my husband and I watched your show on TV yesterday, we both decided to cut our Wal-Mart card into pieces and never shop there again. Big business has just gotten too far removed from the human aspect and the morals involved in this case. There are such extenuating circumstances surrounding this family's unfortunate misfortune with a life-altering accident for the wife, cancer for the husband, and a son dying almost as soon as he arrived in Iraq. I am 60 years old and never would have imagined that I would hear a store like Wal-Mart would stoop to such horrible tactics regarding its company's decision making.

    What could have been a heart-warming ending to a terrible story, landed up being a public disaster for Wal-Mart. I don't even work for a retail chain and I could have remedied this very simply by paying this down-trodden family. This could have been done without taking the funds from the insurance part of the company. It could have quite simply been remedied by paying this with money from Wal-Mart funds. This would have been a small amount for a big chain like Wal-Mart and this would have been a very big amount for the poor family to receive. Wal-Mart would have had wonderful publicity and all would have been happy. This $470.000.00 would have been taken from advertising funds.

    Maybe you could pass this onto the non-thinking executives from Wal-Mart for me and for many of the other angry ex-Wal-Mart shoppers!

    March 28, 2008 at 8:09 pm |
  27. Heather

    I live maybe five miles from a Walmart in our town. I only recently started shopping there because my husband who was lucky to be given two months to find a new job since his job in the housing industry was eliminated . He desperately needed a job and took one with one of the biggest health insurance companies in the country. I thought wow we will have really good coverage since they are soo big. Well what I have learned is that they are soo big and cheap. I have to pay four times as much for my brand rxs. Total I pay is now $250 just for myself. What I have learned is they dont care. They just dont. My husband now works weekends so we can have a fihgting chance at paying off my medical credit card debt. Yes Walmart has the legal right to collect the money. However there is such a thing as practicing good business ethics. It would be one thing if any employee had cosmetic or plastic surgery or some minor injury where life long term care wasnt needed and the person sued sure Walmart should get their money back. But to think he or anyone on this planet in their right mind wouldn't sue. You have to be totally without any intelligence and mentally ill. She suffered major brain damage. She needs life long care. I am sure any and all Walmart employees could care less about policy and more about her getting the treatment she needs. Walmart had a choice. They chose poorly. I think the saying there is no such thing as bad publicity doesnt apply to Walmart this time. The reasonable,ethical,moral, and decent thing to do would be for Walmart to leave the money for her and start a foundation or have their own fundraiser for employees who end up in the same situation so there is funds available. I hope the bad press shames Walmart. My heart aches for this family. They have done everything right. Please dont stop talking about this .Walmart needs to know conducting business this way is simply and totally unacceptable and the public has a thing called purchasing power. We dont have to support the way they treat their hard working employees. Thank you for this story.

    March 28, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  28. Illinois

    This is pathetic! WalMart should be closed down. I've heard so many stories of how the top executives make tons of money, but pay their line workers so little that many of them have to apply for Medicaid and/or other forms of public assistance.

    March 28, 2008 at 7:36 pm |
  29. wolffan

    I will NEVER shop at walmart again. Also, will never get cigna insurance as they didn't cover that poor woman who died because it was a experimental treatment. The oil companies make billions without any concern for the middle class or poor. Our leaders bail out Bear Sterns but tell the little guy sorry that is how the free market works. The next president needs to fight with all their might to regulate big business. They are what is destroying america because of their pure greed.

    March 28, 2008 at 7:33 pm |
  30. Yen

    It amazes me how people try to blame Hillary for this.

    Anyhow, I can't believe Walmart is going through with this. They can certainly part with $400K while this woman desperately needs the money. I bet they spent more than $400K on attorneys' fees to win this case.

    March 28, 2008 at 7:29 pm |
  31. Tim Swarbrick

    It's really come down to this...where people can support this behavior from a company that will make almost 100 BILLION dollars this year? $400,000 to a Walmart is like 4 cents to Donald Trump. This is a crime and I hope that CNN does not let this go. This is a national disgrace and gives credence to all the "Walmart Bashers" out there. There are MAYBE 5 companies in the United States that would've sued someone in this case and Walmart is one of them. This is sickening.

    March 28, 2008 at 7:15 pm |
  32. NANCY

    walmart has also capped wages for their employees....guess what?
    The CEO does NOT have a cap!! he gets multi-million $ bonuses plus multi-million in stock options...and their goal is to have 40% of their workforce...part-time...

    March 28, 2008 at 7:05 pm |
  33. Jan from Wood Dale, IL

    Randi,
    As much as I sympathize for this woman and her family, and detest the callous nature of WalMart, this family has received some very poor legal advice. They could also be in for more hurt from Medicare and/or Medicaid.

    In my limited experience, if long-term care is required, and either Medicare or Medicaid is needed to absorb the expenses, they will seize the financial assets (home, savings, etc.) to offset the costs. They will look back to what the assets were at the time they began to pay, so divorcing and transferring titles now will not matter.

    My suggestion is that this family get the advice of a good bankruptcy attorney to help protect whatever assets they may have left.

    March 28, 2008 at 7:05 pm |
  34. NANEE

    walmart is the modern "SNIDELY WHIPLASH'!!!!

    March 28, 2008 at 6:58 pm |
  35. Carl

    I never have shopped at Walmart because of many policies just like this one.

    When faced with the option of doing the right thing and the money, they chose taking money from the disabled. That's not the right choice.

    It's all about the money, for the Walton's nothing more.

    They exploit the workers, hire the illegal and force employees into compromising situations. Those same employees are faced with the choice of employment, the money to provide for their families or choosing the right thing.

    When they have squashed all other options for local employment there is little else for the employees to do but follow the walton example of take what you can from wherever you can get it. Even from the poor and disabled.

    A disgrace this is not what America stands for.

    March 28, 2008 at 6:41 pm |
  36. DEP

    I personally will never set foot in another Walmart or Sam's Club again. This coldblooded act was the last straw for me.

    March 28, 2008 at 6:30 pm |
  37. Genevieve M, TX

    I am still stunned that Wal-Mart is pursuing this and shocked that the Supreme Court refuses to hear their case. Is is possible to find out why they refused the Shanks' case?

    Randi, thank you for keeping us all up to date on this sad situation. I fairly certain all this publicity over the Shanks' situation is a thorn in Hell-Mart's (ahem...'Wal-Mart's') side.

    March 28, 2008 at 6:21 pm |
  38. Tina

    I have refused to shop at Walmart because they do treat their employees and customers poorly. Yes they are cheap – but I'll pay more for a caring company – Target!! I have family employeed by each of these and the difference is astounding.

    Walmart (and many other company) benefit plans have this common clause in them. As I recall Erica Hill had indicated CNN's plan has the same clause. Businesses are in business to make a profit and deliver value to shareholders. While it is very sad and compassion is lacking the future care of this woman is now left to a struggling family and the US government.

    Information on how to donate to help is needed. CNN please have their lawyer provide information so the compassionate of the US and abroad can assist with funds so care is available to her.

    Someone needs to question both Hillary Clinton & Barack Obama on their health care plan proposals....is this clause expected? Yes we want to avoid fraud but leaving someone with no ability to receive adequate care is disgraceful.

    March 28, 2008 at 5:57 pm |
  39. Sandy Jay, Newfoundland, Canada

    It's an awful story, but not surprising in the least. It's easy for Walmart to be seen as a heartless company, but if it sets a bad precedent in this case to let this one case slide by, the floodgates could open. I would love to see Walmart see the error of their ways and actually pay the bills themselves, or at the very least just leave the money that is left in the account alone, but that just isn't going to happen.

    March 28, 2008 at 5:54 pm |
  40. AHM

    Another big corporation that could care less about their employees and only cares about the bottom line. If they cared they wouldn't take the money or they'd donate a tiny portion of their millions of dollar profits each year to help this woman that worked for them.

    So many of us work our butts off to help the companies we work for succeed and in the end what do we really have to show for it? We get to sit back in our modest homes that we can barely afford while the CEO's and corporate big wigs take millions of dollars in bonuses a year. How do they live with themsleves?

    March 28, 2008 at 5:47 pm |
  41. Lisa

    What I really don't get is why the attorney did not ask for medicals as part of the settlement (medicals paid PLUS future medicals, loss of wages). I'm also surprised he didn't seek loss of consortium on behalf of her husband. I don't know what the laws in Missouri are but I do in California, any good attorney would have sought those monies as part of the settlement. Maybe he did - but with a $1m settlement, it just doesn't seem that he did.

    As for Wal*Mart, they should have gone after the trucking company for medical reimbursement.

    Wal*Mart looks bad ... but this family's attorney appears less than competent as well.

    March 28, 2008 at 5:38 pm |
  42. Diane N.

    I see where Walmart is coming from, I also understand the Shanks pov...What I don't understand is why did she have to use her own medical insurance from her job for injuries sustained in an auto accident that was what seemed to be the truckers fault, wasn't she able to get medical treatment from the trucking companies insurer and her own car insurance company? Why did she use Walmarts insurance for something she should already be covered for through her auto and the trucking companies auto and liability insurance?

    March 28, 2008 at 5:23 pm |
  43. Praetorian, Fort Myers

    It is unfortunate Debbie and her husband did not read what they were signing–and I'm sure it was clearly stated–not in fine print.

    If you settle with a third party–the primary insurer has the right to attempt to recoup payments they made. This isn't new...and this isn't cruel.

    If the patients expenses were paid by a third-party–why shouldn't Wal-Mart be able to recoup their own expenses?

    This is BS over something that happens to ALL of us ALL the time–and should.

    If a business owner has paid $$ for healthcare related to injuries/illness that eventually are proved to be due to a third parties negligence–and payment is made to the patient. The company should definitely be able to recoup their expenses on the patients behalf.

    I can't even believe this is news worthy info.

    March 28, 2008 at 5:19 pm |
  44. DWhipp

    Anais is right. Hillary served on Wal-Mart's Board of Directors for 6 years in the 90s. Curiously enough, she doesn't mention that six year stint on her campaign websiteas if it didn't exist.

    March 28, 2008 at 5:15 pm |
  45. marie

    Everybody should boycott wal-mart for one week.. let's see what happen, and this around the world..

    March 28, 2008 at 5:10 pm |
  46. KS, Texas

    This is just deplorable WallieWorld. Holy crap. Don't you have enough money to be able to overlook this since she didn't get a multimillion dollar settlement?! She barely got enough to cover her expenses for the next few years much less the rest of her life.

    Sam is rolling in his grave over the fact that his "family" would even think of doing this and Ole' Roy is hiding under the bed. But I'm sure that when Sam died that all the values that he had while living went to the grave with him. Just pathetic. HE would have NOT allowed this...policy or not!

    I don't want to see one more ad in ANY Wal-Mart about caring for those serving overseas if they are willing (and they are willing instead of compassionate....) to do this to a fallen soldier's mother.

    March 28, 2008 at 5:09 pm |
  47. Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA

    Does the news that WalMart plans to take the money from this woman surprise anyone?

    WalMart is a corporation and the bottom line with corporations is "profits first". Most corporation could care less about the people whose lives they destroy.

    The only way to get a corporation to do anything humane is to give them so much negative publicity, it effects their profits.

    I already boycott Walmart for their unfair labor practices, but I hope others choose to boycott them for what they are doing to the Shank family.

    March 28, 2008 at 4:57 pm |
  48. Anais

    Does this surprise you that WalMart is so hard-hearted? Especially since Senator Clinton served on their board. Hard-hearted people follow one another.

    March 28, 2008 at 4:50 pm |
  49. April in Texas

    Thats just sad on so many levels. Maybe those well off rich big folks can step in and help and do something right with their wealth..

    Austin Texas

    March 28, 2008 at 4:48 pm |
  50. Susan

    Randi:

    Can you give us an address to where I can send a contribution to the Shank family?

    Susan
    Phoenixville,PA

    March 28, 2008 at 4:47 pm |
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