April 1st, 2008
07:07 PM ET

Wal-Mart tells brain-damaged woman: Keep the money

Wal-Mart's health plan will not try to recoup benefits paid for the care of former employee Debbie Shank, 52, who suffered severe brain damage in a traffic accident. Watch Randi's report tonight on 360°
Wal-Mart's health plan will not try to recoup benefits paid for the care of former employee Debbie Shank, 52, who suffered severe brain damage in a traffic accident. Watch Randi's report tonight on 360°

Randi Kaye | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Hey there, I have some breaking news to share with you.

Remember Debbie Shank, the brain-damaged woman Wal-Mart had sued. The company was looking to get back money it had paid for her care after a semi-truck had plowed into her minivan eight years ago.

She was working for Wal-Mart, stocking shelves overnight so she could spend more time during the day with her family. The company wanted $470,000 back but only $217,000 is actually left of the money she had won in her own lawsuit against the trucking company. The money had been placed in a trust to provide for her long-term care. A court ruled Wal-Mart was entitled only to the money left in the trust.

You may recall, neither Debbie nor her husband had noticed the fine print when they signed up for Wal-Mart’s health and benefits plan that said if she settles with a third party in a lawsuit, Wal-Mart is entitled to recoup what it had paid for her care.

After my story about her aired on 360° and I blogged about it, the response was overwhelming. Thousands of you wrote to us, vowing to boycott Wal-Mart, with some saying you would “never spend another cent there.” Many of you told me you had called Wal-Mart to complain, while others tried to raise funds to help the family.

Someone started a petition to boycott the company on YouTube and Facebook, with a link to our story. Just a couple of you spoke for Wal-Mart, one noting the company had done nothing illegal.

Well, guess what. Today there was a major development in that story... Wal-Mart decided to let Debbie Shank keep the money. I read the letter sent to Debbie’s husband, Jim Shank, from Wal-Mart Executive Vice President Pat Curran. It reads in part:

“Occasionally, others help us step back and look at a situation in a different way. This is one of those times. We have all been moved by Ms. Shank’s extraordinary situation. As you know, our current plan doesn’t give us much flexibility, so we began reviewing the guidelines for the trust that pays medical costs for our associates and their family members….We have decided to modify our plan to allow us more discretion for individual cases and are in the final stages of working out the details. Meanwhile, we wanted you to know that Wal-Mart will not seek any reimbursement for the money already spent on Ms. Shank’s care, and we will work with you to ensure the remaining amount in the trust can be used for her ongoing care. We are sorry for any addition stress this uncertainty has placed on you and your family.”

Jim Shank, Debbie’s husband, learned of this about noon today. He told me “I thought it was an April Fool’s joke.” I asked him how he felt, and he said, “The pressure of the people got to them.. It’s not only a victory for Debbie but they are going to change their entire policy.” Then he added, “I want to thank the Lord Jesus and I want to thank you and 360 for all you’ve done.. you broke the story for us.”

Jim also said he is thankful to so many of you, too, our viewers, who pushed to get what Jim says is justice for his wife, Debbie.

– Randi Kaye, 360° Correspondent

Comments to the 360° blog are moderated. What does that mean?

Filed under: Randi Kaye • TV • Wal-Mart
soundoff (172 Responses)
  1. aimee , vancouver -canada

    Fantastic job Randi!
    I've always enjoyed watching your reports. This is one brought tears to my eyes. What an inspirational story!
    Thanks AC360's crew for covering this story

    God bless

    April 1, 2008 at 10:19 pm |
  2. Bruce

    i am glad that the family is going to keep their money, but this is a biased story by CNN and they did not mention the most important issue. What about the attorneys that took about half of their initial settlement? Why didn't CNN and Anderson go after the greedy attorney's that demanded so much of this poor woman's settlement? Why, because it would not have made the news! This is hack journalism at best and the folks at CNN need to hire some competent reporters. Did anyolne ever interview the attorney's and ask them why they could not reduce their large fees to help out this poor woman? They had a signed contract too, but I did not see anyone try to dispute it's legality. I have seen better journalism on the wall of a bathroom. Publish the entire story and not just sound bites to get ratings. Walmart initially did nothing wrong and in many states, companies are allowed to subrogate for damages caused by another party. Walmart was within their legal rights. Unfortunatley, a bunch of folks did not get their facts straight and wanted to organzie a boycott against Walmart. Boo Hoo! Now that Walmart has dropped their recovery lawsuit, why not interview the legal team that won the judgment and ask them to give back some of their outlandish fees? Why not start an internet boycott of this law firm until they pay back some of the money? Now, this would be newsworthy!

    April 1, 2008 at 10:17 pm |
  3. greg

    I am delighted to hear that Walmart decided to let these people keep the money. However two issues come to mind. One, insurance is based on real actuarial data and the company should be covered for these expenses on that basis. Especially a company with 1.3 million workers can easily absorb such payments given how high premiums are. When companies go after these payments they are just padding executive bonuses. Secondly you speak out just as loudly about the blood sucking attorneys who took so much of the settlement. Poor people suffer at the hands of the powerful because they can only get an attorney interested when they get a slam dunk case like this one.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:16 pm |
  4. Michelle Ryan Arifi

    Jeffrey makes an excellent point - one that I was surprised hadn't gotten more play earlier in this Wal-Mart story: this is one consequence of not having national health care. Perhaps if the millions of people who mobilized for the Shank family - or, better yet, the 47 million uninsured individuals in this country - were to speak out in favor of a fairer and more just system, something might actually get done. Not just by Wal-Mart. But by America.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  5. A D Davis

    The constructive criticism of Walmart's health insurance policy was informative, but I question why the settlement was 60% in favor of the lawyers and only 40% for the injured party? Maybe the lawyers should reconsider their policies as well.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  6. Mike - WA

    Thank God a corrupt corporation has finally done the right thing, even if it was to save their own profits. Some self-centered, mindless young Wal-Mart Executive won't get to buy that extra condo. We should all feel sad for him (or her). Wake up America! The corporate corruption is only going to get worse. And fixes like this Wal-Mart situation will only occur if their profits are affected. So stop buying from the corrupt!!

    April 1, 2008 at 10:14 pm |
  7. Sriram S

    Hey Anderson / Randi
    Good work and God bless Debbie. What about the other villain in this sordid episode, Debbie's lawyer who pocketed 300k, why is getting a pass?

    April 1, 2008 at 10:13 pm |
  8. stats

    I cannot believe Walmart caved into this situation.
    My mom had something happen to her with her insurance and she had to pay back every penny she was paid.
    ALthough her situation is a little different her ins. company paid her long term disability after she had a relapse with MG causing her to not be able to work anymore and after battling SS for almost a year she finally got her SS and she had to repay the ins company 100 % of what she was paid by the ins company.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:13 pm |
  9. James

    Great job Randi. I hope CNN does more stuff like this!

    April 1, 2008 at 10:10 pm |
  10. Larry from Georgetown, Tx

    I think everyone who complains about their job should go to work at Wal Mart for one month and then be allowed to go back to their job. They will have a new attitude. I know I did.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:08 pm |
  11. Rick Gardner

    Congaduations Walmart for having a heart, however, how did this incident occur in the first place? Is this a matter of lack of government regulation, or is it a matter of government regulation that allows this type of incident to happen. Has it happened before? Can it happen again?

    April 1, 2008 at 10:07 pm |
  12. Nicole from AZ

    Like many I am extremely happy to read that Wal-Mart changed their minds! Legally they had every right to recoup the money however morally it was just wrong! I must admit I am a Wal-Mart shopper and onely ebcause they price match, it saves me 4 or 5 trips to different grocery stores for savings! However within the past week and a half I have not been to a Wal-Mart because of the story and personally do not know if I will go back as I do not miss the rude cashiers, the long lines, and all around negative atmosphere. Congratulations to the Shank Family!

    April 1, 2008 at 10:02 pm |
  13. Buckly, NYC

    Wow, great story. Glad to see this have a (relatively) happy ending. Those seem so few and far between these days.

    April 1, 2008 at 9:59 pm |
  14. jamie marie trull

    This is a relief...I think they realized I wasn't spending my usual $150/week there...

    I am so glad Wal-Mart decided to do the right thing and give this poor woman her life back. She has been so devestated by tragedy these past few years, she deserves this!

    April 1, 2008 at 9:55 pm |
  15. Christina, Windber, PA

    I am so glad Wal-Mart changed their mind and is also changing their policy.
    Great reporting Randi! Just goes to show the power of AC360; it's nice to see a happy ending.

    Looking forward to the interview tonight.

    April 1, 2008 at 9:49 pm |
  16. Froilan

    Although we don't have any walmart here in the philippines. It's a good thing that the company changed their position on the matter. But i think that walmart gave in to the pressure that is why the sudden change of heart. Well good for the shanks.

    Manila, Phillipines

    April 1, 2008 at 9:35 pm |
  17. Debra from Fl.

    I forgot to mention that her money wouldn't go as far as it should ... my post would have made better sense.


    April 1, 2008 at 9:27 pm |
  18. Tara in Tennessee

    You see!!!! Boycotts CAN work! I just had someone yesterday suggest I pick up an item at WalMart. I said "no way! Let me tell you about what Wal-Mart is doing to one of their employees." I told everyone I talked to this past week. But it's a shame that companies only do the right thing when their bottom line might be affected.

    April 1, 2008 at 9:23 pm |
  19. Angel

    Great job CNN! It's very heartbreaking to realize it took several days of media scrutiny for Wal-Mart to do the right thing...it should have only taken common sense!

    April 1, 2008 at 9:20 pm |
  20. Annie Kate


    That is great news! I'm sure this was not the sort of limelight Wal-mart enjoyed being in and its good to know that your efforts and the efforts of everyone that contacted Wal-mart were heeded. I hope Wal-mart finds it in their heart to help the family more with donations from their foundations. In this world of high health care costs that 217,000 won't last long. Thanks for sharing this with us!!

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 1, 2008 at 9:14 pm |
  21. Genevieve M, TX

    Randi, I read this blog post and like Anderson's post yesterday...the words of a song came to mind- in this case it is from the song "Heroes" by Paul Overstreet.

    "Cause you know heroes come in every shape and size.
    Making special sacrifices for others in their lives.
    No one gives them medals, the world don't know their names
    But in someone's eyes, they're heroes just the same"

    Thanks again, Randi, for telling us their story and inspiring us to "take a stand for what is right".

    April 1, 2008 at 9:13 pm |
  22. Kathleen, NC

    What a wonderful success story. Great job everyone. Good things do happen when you have a united voice.

    April 1, 2008 at 9:13 pm |
  23. seah ohio

    Just about all polices are the same. It is designed to keep people from double dipping. Many do it just for the money and to make out. On occasion you see someone in dire straights.

    Great Job Walmart you did a good thing.

    April 1, 2008 at 9:08 pm |
  24. EJ - Ohio

    I'll shop there. Ohioans especially can't be wasting money at high end stores trying to prove a point that can't be proven with a boycott of the nation's largest retailer.

    What broke Walmart down was the coverage. They were getting slammed and were looking at a PR nightmare. This was bigger than their other heartless actions in the past because of the uniqueness of this woman's situation.

    April 1, 2008 at 9:08 pm |
  25. Fay, CA

    This is excellent news–Wal-Mart is not the most people-friendly corporation and has a pretty awful reputation, they don't usually back down, but the public outrage and negative publicity over their heartless treament of the Shank family was too overwhelming for even them to ignore. I'm very happy to know that Debbie Shank will continue to receive the care that she deserves. Well done Randi Kaye and 360.

    April 1, 2008 at 9:04 pm |
  26. Wal-Mart Supporter

    Randi -,

    Leave Wal-Mart alone. I'm getting tired of the AC 360 anti-Wal-Mart specials which always are based on absolutely nothing. CNN has always hated the Company and so does Anderson Cooper. I think and I know that Wal-Mart did not do anything illegal. I support Wal-Mart, I supported Wal-Mart, and I will always support Wal-Mart. Your anger will result in nothing. If the supporters of this story about biggest retailer in the World don't shop there anymore, I don't care. But let me tell this – I no longer will watch Anderson Cooper 360.

    Wal-Mart supporter.

    April 1, 2008 at 8:40 pm |
  27. Saera El Paso, TX


    April 1, 2008 at 8:29 pm |
  28. Sahira

    This is great news. I always thought Wal-Mart is evil. Maybe not.

    Congratulations to the Shank family. I am so glad they finally won this fight.

    Randi, you did an awesome job reporting on Debbie's story. I look forward to Jim Shank's interview tonight.

    April 1, 2008 at 8:28 pm |
  29. Lilibeth

    I'm glad Wal-Mart decided to let the Shanks keep the money. Corporations should know that the bottom-line is not always the most important thing. Do the right thing is. To Randi and all of AC360 team, be proud that you are a part of the happy ending!

    Edmonds, Washington

    April 1, 2008 at 8:20 pm |
  30. Sarah

    I still am not gonna shop there.

    April 1, 2008 at 8:19 pm |
  31. Cynthia

    It's a shame that it took the news media and others getting involved to make Walmart do what is right. There are probably others who have gone through similar situations with Walmart. May God bless the family.

    April 1, 2008 at 8:13 pm |
  32. BIG B

    This story just confirms that the corporations in this country are very un American as they obviously do not care about its citizens the only thing they care about is themselves plus profit. When and where did we go wrong. This has gotten very very disturbing as Americans will only get abused for so long!!! What happened to the old America where a'MAN' was proud to see his employees thrive , food on the table, kids going to college ,house getting paid off these things used to make area man feel good. Now these men do not even want to pay for labor they just want the finished product and maximum profit. Wal Mart is acting in accordance with todays greedy ways.

    April 1, 2008 at 8:13 pm |
  33. Lisa

    While Wal*Mart is doing the right thing, I still think Mr. Shenk should be asking his attorneys for some of the fees he paid him for the $1m settlement. If the attorney had done his job properly, none of this should have happened to begin with. Additionally, Wal*Mart is entitled to their medical fees back and should seek them from the trucking company.

    I am glad, though, for the outcome for the Shenks. I'm concerned about how much longer that money will last but at the moment this is one less thing to worry about.

    April 1, 2008 at 8:09 pm |
  34. EJ - Ohio

    Great job Randi Kaye! Your coverage also led another show to pick it up and declare Walmart that day's "Worst person in the world"

    Thanks for the coverage. I wish the Shank family all the best.

    April 1, 2008 at 8:05 pm |
  35. Amanda, Los Angeles

    Finally Wal-Mart is doing the right thing – thanks to CNN and others doing a great job in telling this story and the immense public outcry that resulted. Now we need Congress to do something about the legal loophole called "subrogation" which (since a 2006 Supreme Court ruling) had become increasingly common in employee health insurance plans and allows a company to recoup expenses incurred for an injured party’s medical care should that person receive damages from a lawsuit with a third party.

    We also need leaders to seriously address the healthcare issue. This is really the heart of the matter. Wal-Mart sold Debbie Shank and its other employees a poor benefits package that wouldn’t help them when they really needed it.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:56 pm |
  36. Heather

    Congratulations to the Shanks! Congratulations to everyone who proved that all of us (the Shanks, CNN, and all of us viewers )can have influence when we come together and take a stand for what is right. I am soo very happy for the Shanks. I hope other companys with similar rules look into changing them. The people have spoken and the very same reaction could very well happen again. They must realize business practices like these are never acceptable. Thank you for bringing tears of joy to my eyes. I wish and hope nothing but all the best for the Shanks.I hope they know that people from all over this country will continue to care about them.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:46 pm |
  37. Sara W. California

    Way to go all of you at AC 360 and CNN. This is great example of using the powers of the media to give a voice to the voiceless. I am very happy for the Shank family. this is one less thing that they have on their plates now.
    Thanks for bringing this issue out into the open and holding wal mart accountable so that something could be done.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  38. Carol B., Virginia

    This family has seen more than their share of tragedies. Thankfully, Wal-Mart reconsidered. Nice job, Randi, and thanks for letting us know the outcome.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:43 pm |
  39. Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA

    I am so glad Walmart has decided to do the right thing here. it proves the voice of the people can be a powerful motivator. Now, if only we could get the people to voice their displeasure en masse about how our government is mishandled.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:40 pm |
  40. Tammy

    It's nice to know that if enough customers threaten to leave, Wal-Mart will listen to the potential loss of dollars. Sorry. I'm too cynical to believe the spirit of goodness came down on this corporation suddenly and they felt any real empathy for the Shank family. I'd like to be that naive, but I just can't this time. I am glad they are changing their policy and that Mrs. Shank can keep her money for her care. I am glad this all worked out for the best. I do still believe someone at Wal-Mart will have to answer one day for the pain and suffering their greed caused this family. But I won't be buffaloed into believing Wal-Mart really cares for the community it serves. I still am boycotting them until the whole mindset changes over there. Good job to all of you on getting the story out! It's good to know the power of the press (or TV and web in this case) still exists.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:36 pm |
  41. ashanty

    This is fantastic news! I am glad Wal-Mart is going to review their policy to allow some leeway in various circumstances. Congrats to Jim and his family on this victory!

    April 1, 2008 at 7:36 pm |
  42. Kristien,Antwerp, Belgium


    I'm glad that you sometimes get to report some good news like this!

    I'm sure it's a huge weight of Mr Shank's shoulders.
    It wont change Debbie's mental situation, but at least he won't have to worry about the money anymore.

    Good luck to them!!

    April 1, 2008 at 7:31 pm |
  43. Minou, New York City

    Randi, that is so awesome!

    The truth is, though, there are many people who are being unfairly treated by big companies like Wal-Mart. Only nobody ever hears about it.
    This whole thing was such bad publicity for Wal-Mart that I was wondering how they could possibly keep suing the Shanks after the story aired.
    It's just a publicity stunt on their part. Let's see if they really change their policy and to what degree. I hope CNN will fact check that one later.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:28 pm |
  44. Bill in Nebraska

    Well I am very happy to hear that Wal-Mart has done the right thing not just here but that they are going to change the policy. It is not going to change my belief in the fact that I will never do business with them again in my life nor will anyone in my family. That may not seem like much but that is about 100 people that used to spend an average of $8,000.00 each year between Wal-Mart and Sam's.

    This never should have happened to this family. Thank you for helping them and for bringing it to public light.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:22 pm |
  45. Joanie Ferguson

    One voice is not lost when the message it carries speaks for so many. We make a difference when we strive to help our fellow men. My family too has chosen to speak out against the powerful in order to protect the weak. This story gives us the strength to believe against all odds.
    Joanie, Las Vegas

    April 1, 2008 at 7:21 pm |
  46. Sarah

    I literally have tears in my eyes from reading this. I'm so moved, by the Shank family, the viewers who made their voices heard, and the people of 360. It is such a heartbreaking situation (this is more than a story, it's someone's livelihood), and I can't help but say a small prayer to whomever for listening out there. This is great news.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:19 pm |
  47. Cindy

    At least Wal-Mart came to their senses and let the Shank's keep the money. But you know it wasn't out of any caring for her. It was all about saving face and keeping bad publicity down from this case.

    Hopefully everything will go smoothly from now on for Debbie. She has been through so much already!

    Cynthia, Covington, Ga.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:18 pm |
  48. KL Ramos

    This is horrible. How one greedy family can stand for this awful. They could write a check and not even feel it. I will never set foot in a Walmart again and send this story to everyone in my address book for them to forward, etc.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:18 pm |
  49. Jill, Waterloo ON Canada

    Congratulations Randi and everyone who got involved with this woman's story. I agree with Jim when he says that it is great that they are examining their policies.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:15 pm |
  50. Jennifer - Michigan

    Thank goodness for that woman and her family. Wal-Mart should have done it right away! All the bad publicity it still going to cost them. They should have known better. Makes you wonder what kind of management they have employed there.

    April 1, 2008 at 7:12 pm |
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