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. Paula Van Laanen & Jean Susing

    Shame on Walmart and their greedy actions! Denying a permanently injured woman and her family the right to have even some comfort in their lives. Disturbing, evil and certainly speaks volumes about this dreadful company. We will never shop here again and we intend to tell all our friends and family about this story. Please post an address so people and business of intregrity can step up and assist the Shanks.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:57 pm |
  2. Matt in MA

    Boycott Walmart.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:57 pm |
  3. David

    I will NEVER spend another penny at Walmart!!!!

    March 28, 2008 at 10:57 pm |
  4. robert

    Anais. Maybe Michelle Obama can petition her medical facility to support these people since you think they are so much more warm hearted than Hillary.

    This situation is so typical of Walmart. they are the prime example of corporate evil. Why people still feel compelled to walk into their stores and buy that 5th rate junk from China in order to make one cruel and shoddy family even more wealthy is absurd and a perfect example of why the country is nose diving down the toilet.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:57 pm |
  5. Jon in Los Angeles, CA

    This is a sad case, ultimately the tax payers will have to fork over the bill. Once the trust money is taken from Walmart the family will have to use medicare. I think Walmart could have used one of it's charity funds to cover this extra expense, however, now it may be too late to not go after the won funds because it is all over the press. If Walmart agrees to not take the money then it might reveal that Walmart could be pushed by the Media and others will be tempted to utilize the media against the corporate giant.

    What should be done? Walmart utilize one of the charity funds to cover the expenses to stop the bad PR (I've seen the story air now on multiple news sites over a whole week), yet keep the cover-up out of the news so that other possible suits do not utilize the press to spread bad PR.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:57 pm |
  6. Mary McIntyre

    Wasn't Hillary Clinton on the board at Wal-Mart at one time?
    This her chance to make some calls to Wal-Mart , show everyone that she's on the peoples' side and make some things happen.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:56 pm |
  7. Paul S. Hampson

    The biggest problem is that this type of thing is allowed because of a Federal law – ERISA (Every Rotten Idea Since Adam). Several states, including Tennessee, have passed laws that this sort of subrogation is only allowed if the victim actually obtains a settlement large enough to cover ALL damages. Unfortunately it doesn't apply to programs like Wal-Mart which is multi-state in scope and so they use the Federal law to override any State law. Every person covered by any national-type plan is in the same boat as this lady (including CNN employees). If you sue and the defendant hasn't enough insurance or assets to cover your damages, they'll offer policy limits and you'll be screwed. You can only go for greater than policy limits if you can prove 'bad faith' on their part – very hard to do. So, like this lady, you can only get what you can, and watch them take it away. Can you buy insurance to cover this hole? No, they don't offer it. The solution – reform ERISA to more like the Tennessee law. It will mean a very small premium increase but stories like this will be a thing of past. Unfortunately, the insurance lobby prevents it from ever coming up. Sound familiar.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:56 pm |
  8. James in NJ

    What about the Emergency Employee Fund, or the Walmart Foundation, or the Walton Foundation which helps people and donates millions and millions to those who need it? AC360 said these are options beyond the lawsuit, yet Walmart is not doing anything to help. Will Walmart go bankrupt if they don't recoup this money ... I don't think so.

    The ultimate face slap to Walmart would be if Target donated some of their charity money to the Shanks so they could payoff Walmart. How great would that be?

    I understand rules are rules, but there is an exception to every rule ... why can't this be one of them?

    March 28, 2008 at 10:56 pm |
  9. Karl Sykes

    I really believe it is time for this too hit main stream meaning not just your show but to get it out through out the country.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:56 pm |
  10. Linda Cortes

    I was absolutely horrified by this story. I have not been a fan of Wal-Mart for many years, but still occassionally shopped. Not anymore!!! For a company that makes the kind of money they do it is ridiculous to go after Debbie's money. I hope that Debbie's husband sets up another trust for and I and I am sure a lot of other people will send him money to help with Debbie's medical care.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:56 pm |
  11. A.M. Deist

    As sad as this story might be, companies have rules that should be followed. My question to all those people who want to see this family taken care of, including you Anderson Cooper, set up a fund to have your million listeners who are sad for this family contribute $1.00 each and we can end the story. Americans have become so arrogant that they want to dictate what should be done when they don't have a vested intersest in the outcome. The fact that her son died in the Middle East is on President Bush's account, not Walmarts. Maybe President Bush should provide taxpayer money to help this family. We still have loads of people from Katrina that haven't been made whole. Maybe Walmart should raise their prices 10% for the next couple of months and let this family keep the money. People will still buy at Walmart because they are the cheapest.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:56 pm |
  12. Gerardo

    WalMart's charter should be revoked.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:55 pm |
  13. Dan S. Greensburg Pa

    I am a loyal customer with a small business. Give up some cash Walmart. Find it somewhere and make this go away you idiots. If I had it, id make it happen. Make a move quick this page had 1.8 million views.
    1.8 million just on this page you hard heads.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:55 pm |
  14. Mack McElroy

    Why is the attorney that represented Debbie not responsible for not making this part of the settlement. He should have know that Wal Mart would seek reimbursement for expenses that they paid. Wal Mart is not at fault here, but the attorney in his neligence in not seeking an award that would repay Wal Mart plus provide funds for the future care of Debbie. Shame on CNN for not bringing this up.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:55 pm |
  15. Rob in Warwick

    stunned, sickened, outraged. What else can I say? Walmart will not receive another penny from my family until they reverse this heartless course of action. To make matter worse, they are out there feeding everyone a bunch of bs.....they have no choice. Give me a break.

    I hope you choke on your $270g, Walmart. And I hope it's the last $270g you make as a business.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:55 pm |
  16. Gerry Miller

    While I sympathize with the woman who is brain damaged from the auto accident, if she received money from the lawsuit, she should be required to pay back the money. If everyone did the same thing there would be no money left for others. I am sorry her son was killed, that is a separate thing, not Wal-marts fault....SO. that is what I think..No one ever paid anything for me, I have always worked, just to keep my head above water...Sorry I do not feel like you do, quite frankly, I don't understand why you feel so strongly...perhaps because of the son. Think about it a little more Anderson.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:55 pm |
  17. Rodriguez Family

    First give an adress so we can make donations.
    Second All americans should stop shopping at wal-mart for a month or so, and prove to them that we made them and we can break them. ONLY IF WE STICK TOGETHER AS ONE. Really lets teach them a lesson.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:54 pm |
  18. Raju

    I spend at least $ 1200 dollars a year. Not any more. I will try to locate two more people and attempt to convince them not to spend money at Wal Mart. I will also ask each of them to contact two people each and do the same. I am ashamed of companies like Wal Mart. It may not be illegal but it is unethical. This is appaling.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:54 pm |
  19. Linda Cross

    This is sad and it is another thing that proves that Wal-Mart does not care about its employees. My husband and I shop at Wal-Mart very frequently but we have decided to stop shopping there after hearing this story, its just another bad thing that should not be happening. If we don't make a stand and keep shopping at Wal-Mart then it means we agree with what they are doing. They probably want miss our money but if enough people stop shopping there then they will feel it.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:54 pm |
  20. Joe Toronto

    can cnn setup a donation page? 1.8 million views multiplied by $1.00 is a lot of money for this family i am willing to donate more!!!!!

    p.s. should this family not get some sort of money form wal mart i will never ever shop there again.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:54 pm |
  21. Michel Isenberg

    This is truly a profound sad story coupled with the fact that Wal-Mart could demonstrate some kindness and compassion by helping one of its ex-employee. I will not spent one single penny to any Wal-Mart strores if they don't resolve this situation decently.

    To all wal-Mart employees.... please have Wal-Mart remove the fine print at the bottom of their contract...

    March 28, 2008 at 10:54 pm |
  22. Concerned in NC

    Thank GOD, I work for Target. Don't those Wally word idiots know that the lawsuit was for her permanent care and not to reimburse expenses already covered and paid for. Another question comes to mind, why did they settle with the trucking company for so little? Seems like there would have been millions of dollars won in that settlement to well pay for medical needs and after-care. Fire their attourney!!

    March 28, 2008 at 10:54 pm |
  23. bill anlyan

    WalMart and the Walton family should be ashamed. I've spent my last $ in WalMart! I plan to tell 50 people about this sad situation.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:54 pm |
  24. Roz, Ontario Canada

    I stopped shopping at Walmart the day I heard about Randi's story and regardless of what happens, I will never shop there again. This story should alert all Walmart employees to check their "benefit" packages very carefully.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:53 pm |
  25. Lamar Belton

    I am a military and a walmart shopper , but i will no longer shop at walmart. The greed that they are showing trying to take the Shanks to the poor house. Shame on them and they no longer have to count on me to contribute to them making money. My credit card is now cut up.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:53 pm |
  26. Erroll

    Perhaps the Walton family wouldn't mind investing in an annuity product that could help this family out. This family needs help.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:53 pm |
  27. Michael - San Francisco

    Walmart's greed, arrogance and callousness are beyond outrageous. How disgusting these people feel no shame. Finally we have a company that has driven the values we saw at Enron to new depths. Walmart has earned my enmity for all time.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:53 pm |
  28. John Brown

    The situation for the woman and her family is indeed sad.

    However, I don't think CNN should be in the business of forcing companies to go against their existing health care plans / policies – – a practice that could in fact jeopardize their relationships with their providers that could act to the detriment of other employees.

    I do think it appropriate that you point out that many company health plans (including CNN's as you mentioned on your broadcast) have the type of fine print that has been exposed in this situation.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:52 pm |
  29. Dale Burrage

    Walmart does not need the money from this unfortunate lady. They are just greedy. If they force this lady, this family to give up the money needed to survive, I will never step foot in their business again.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:52 pm |
  30. Sandra

    This story is so terrible. Walmart is ready to leave this family pennyless. How will Susan be careful for? Walmart doesn't need the money. People should boycott Walmart.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:51 pm |
  31. Marlene

    Okay, I have as big a heart for a person injured like Mrs. Shank. However, if everyone out there would look at their employer medical coverage, I'll bet most, if not all, those plans have a subrogation clause. And if that clause were not there, every employee would probably see a rise in premiums for company provided medical coverage because of increased experience ratings. The point is that the person responsible for the accident should be incurring the expense, in this case the truck driver or trucking company. Wal-Mart associates shouldn't have to pay increased premiums because of that driver's negligence. Does Wal-Mart have the earnings to "forgive" this subrogation claim? Yes, we know they do. But if they bend their policy for this case, then the floodgates could open for everyone at Wal-Mart and every other company that provides healthcare coverage.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:51 pm |
  32. Quincy Clark

    Last straw for me and Walmart! Is there an address for the family? I would love to donate.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:50 pm |
  33. Tiffany

    I'm disappointed in Wal-mart, and I'd also like to know the name of the insurance company who put this "special clause" in their policy? Is this a common policy? Companies who offer their employee's benefits should boycott the insurance! company!!

    March 28, 2008 at 10:50 pm |
  34. Dawn

    I wrote to Walmart and told them about how horrible their actions are. I will never shop at a Walmart again. Let's all shop at Target. Maybe Target would make a donation to the Shank family. Is there an address for the Shanks, then we could all send them a $1.00 to help them. How about it fellow CNN Bloggers.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:50 pm |
  35. Amy Pritchett

    While I understand Walmart legally has a right to recoup the expenses they're suing the Shank family for, morally this is beyond the pale. Like so many others, I vow to never, ever spend another cent at Walmart; Target gets my money from here on out. I always suspected Walmart was soulless, and this just confirms it. Have you no sense of decency, no sense of shame? Why not take some of that $90 billion profit from the last quarter and set a good corporate example by adding to the Trust, rather than taking the last penny from it? What an outrage.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:49 pm |
  36. Charles

    I see two options:

    1) Set up a fund to help the Shanks.

    2) Boycott Walmart for 1/2 day, say from 12:00 to midnight on the 15th of April. The loss in sales would cost Walmart far more than what they have done to the Shanks. Also, it would not penalize people because they could continue to shop, but that loss of sales would hurt. It is the only language large firms such as Walmart understand.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:49 pm |
  37. Ed Cardon

    Walmart may want to recoup its $400K paid to the Shanks family but they are receiving millions in bad publicity. Shame on Walmart. Can't they spare some compassion along with the billions that they earn every year.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  38. Sarah

    I too would like to know where to send a contribution. It may not be much but it is MUCH MORE than Wal-Mart is willing to do for this family. After viewing the segment this evening, I will not shop at this horrible establishment from this moment on.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  39. Lori

    Wal-mart is a greedy and heartless company. This story is the final straw, I will never step foot in a Wal-mart again and they will not get another cent of my money.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  40. Louis Arested

    Who gives a crap? 300 million will still keep buying crap at Walmart. I bet everyone who moans and groans about this story will still go to walmart....you want to make a difference, stop buying their cheap crap.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  41. Galen Gregory

    Shameful! I've spent my last dollar at Walmart and I hope enough folks boycott Walmart that they feel it in their pocketbook....apparently the only place they have any feeling.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  42. Denzel

    Wal-mart means roll back prices,and i guess that also means roll-back morals too.I think wal-mart should be ashamed,thats why I NEVER GO THERE!!!!

    March 28, 2008 at 10:47 pm |
  43. BC

    I am just listening to this news about the paralized lady being sued by Wallmart. I promise not to buy anything at that store until they re-consider their position. How low can your get?

    I will tell all my friend not to buy there either.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:47 pm |
  44. melanie miller

    There are plenty of other businesses out there that will enjoy my purchasing power–Wal-Mart is no longer one of them for me. This is just another reason why I feel that we should stop shopping at this store.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:47 pm |
  45. marieasia@gmail.com

    A boycot of Walmart is in order – the rich get richer....

    March 28, 2008 at 10:46 pm |
  46. Chris Duncan

    Walmart is a crooked, immoral, and dishonest company. Everyone, Please stock shopping there...

    March 28, 2008 at 10:46 pm |
  47. Margaret, Atlanta

    Big, bad Wal-Mart is picking on the poor disabled woman by allowing the insurance company to collect what is rightfully theirs. So if they do this for all employees, how many people will they have to lay off to or cut benefits for, how high will they have to raise prices? How many IRA's and retirement funds will be affected when Wal-Mart profits are decreased?

    I wonder what percentage of the settlement Debbie's lawyers received.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:45 pm |
  48. Victor

    My wife worked for Wal Mart before and was about to return again. Now, after watching your report there is no way she is going back to WalMart. How can they do this? This could be my wife.

    We made WalMart...the consumers. We can destroy WalMart.

    WalMart, you will not received any more blessings.

    Today is a very sad day. Money is more important than a human.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:45 pm |
  49. Phil

    Unbelievable. We were discussing this at work today. The whole staff at the group of Dealerships where I am a manager pledged to boycott Wal Mart until this is resolved. Lets see how long / how many customers not paying at the register will move them.

    March 28, 2008 at 10:44 pm |
  50. patty

    it's time to stop shopping at Wal-Mart and to stop feeding the big corp world. Lets see how they feel without the everyday mom shopping in Wal-Mart. Will they sue the us ( the moms) I will be calling and e-mail all of the moms that I know, and they will call and e-mail everyone they know. It's time to stop the big wigs in Corp American from stepping on the small person.

    Pat from Ct

    March 28, 2008 at 10:44 pm |
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