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. Lily

    Wal-mart finally did the right thing. But the emotional and mental toll this had on the Shanks is unforgiveable.

    Look for the Subrogation provision. Even Medicare and Medicaid have this clause and unlike private companies that are willing to negotiate a percentage of the cost the federal government will not. Look out if you are on Medicare and Medicaid and get a settlement.!!

    April 1, 2008 at 11:23 pm |
  2. Michael Henry

    WalMart did make the right decision, but keep in mind WalMart has a health plan to deal with these issues. The intent of insurance is to compensate an individual. Insurance is not in place to allow an inured person to collect multiple times the damage from different sources. What is of concern, which you did not address, is how the fees to attorneys are justified.

    If the settlement or verdict was for $1,000,000 then how do you rationalize, accept and not discuss on air, how an attorney takes more than 50% of the settlement.

    I suggest you review the entire case and not linger solely on Wal-Mart. Your limited perspective is a clear indication of your willingness to bend a story to fit headlines. Thank some higher being for giving us NPR. While NPR may slant, it does at least take the time to investigate and seemingly report many sides of an issue. Agree or not.

    Time to get real 360. Fair reporting with a highlight on constructive responses to issues would be a worthy cause

    April 1, 2008 at 11:23 pm |

    Thank you for your story. This family needed justice, I live in Wyoming and told everyone who would listen about this story. I just sent a donation in the mail to the Shank family today. I just saw your broadcast and it brought me to tears. There is some justice in the world. I also appreciate the disclosure made that Walmart is only one of many companies that have policies like this. Your really really made a REAL difference with this choice of story. Thank you.

    April 1, 2008 at 11:22 pm |
  4. Claude Graves

    It is great that Wal- Mart gave in. Thank you CNN for bringing the story to the public.

    However, why is it that no one made a BIG DEAL over the law firm taking as much as 300k of Debbie's settlement?

    Fair is Fair.

    April 1, 2008 at 11:21 pm |
  5. Nadja

    I am very happy that the lady of the Wallmart case is free to pay. Congratulations Randi Kaye and AC360 to show the news, even when you can not tell the people what to do, you made a big contribution showing a very shock and sad story in a responsable way. Thumbs up!
    Best Regards from Venezuela Nice web cam...

    April 1, 2008 at 11:21 pm |
  6. M west

    Thank you for the Walmart story. Where is the outrage that more than half of this woman's settlement went to the attorneys - that is more than Walmart was after??????????

    April 1, 2008 at 11:19 pm |
  7. Tina

    We should not let Walmart off the hook on this issue, without the public out cry I am sure that they would have continued on and took every cent that this family had. Just because they can? Come on it took Walmart EIGHT years to get a clue. I won't let them off that easy, someone in their organization should have stood up and said, is this the right thing to do? The answer was no EIGHT years ago just as it is today. Think of all the legal fees, stress and time that this family lost through this entire issue. I will not be shopping at Walmart.

    April 1, 2008 at 11:19 pm |
  8. Carol

    I was disappointed that CNN gave the impression that they were the only news agency to push the "Wal Mart vs Debbie Shank" story and that they were the only ones instrumental in getting Wal Mart to reverse their decision. I watched several other cable news stations and they also pushed the story every nite in hopes of shaming Wal Mart into reversing their original decision.

    April 1, 2008 at 11:19 pm |
  9. Kendi M

    thank God. I was going to Walmart this morning, I needed something from there so bad but am gonna tell you as I parked my car my spirit was telling me you can not shop here, I turned around and went to a different store to spend more money but guess what I was so proud of my decision. I watched the good news now am am so glad walmart made the right decision though I still need time to heal before I can go to walmart again. Thanks to everyone who mad this happen.

    April 1, 2008 at 11:18 pm |
  10. Claude Graves

    It is great that Wal-Mart gave in. Thank you CNN!!!

    However, why is it that no one made a BIG DEAL about the law firm taking as much as 300k of her settlement monies?

    Fair is Fair....

    April 1, 2008 at 11:17 pm |
  11. Claude Graves

    It is great that Wal-Mart gave in. Thank you CNN!!!

    However, why is it that no one made a BIG DEAL about the law firm taking as much as 300k of her settlement monies?

    Fair is Fair....

    April 1, 2008 at 11:16 pm |
  12. sheri

    Don't be giving Wal-Mart a big pat on the back for this one, they truly only have one motive....that being, the negative press....what if this family had never fought.....shame on Wal-Mart, they aren't all that fabulous...

    April 1, 2008 at 11:15 pm |
  13. Nadja

    I am very happy that the lady of the Wallmart case is free to pay. I think is the right thing. Congratulations Randi Kaye and AC360 to show the news, even when you can not tell the people what to do, you made a big contribution showing a very shock and sad story in a responsable way. Thumbs up!
    Best Regards from Venezuela

    April 1, 2008 at 11:14 pm |
  14. Ann N

    Randi Kaye – you ROCK! This is fantastic news!!

    April 1, 2008 at 11:14 pm |
  15. James, MI

    Well done Randy, well done Anderson, well done 360 team! What a brilliant piece of news to start the month!

    April 1, 2008 at 11:13 pm |
  16. Jillo

    Finally after almost breaking their arm Walmart proves it's not completely heartless

    April 1, 2008 at 11:12 pm |
  17. xtina

    Im glad a big company can have flexibility; however, for every story like this, there must be a hundred others involv. large corporations. Are you sure cnn isn't just selecting this because it's big bad WalMart ?

    April 1, 2008 at 11:12 pm |
  18. Trish

    Wow, is everyone going to run to Wal-Mart and do their shopping now?

    April 1, 2008 at 11:10 pm |
  19. Jennifer

    This is a terribly sad story and I greatly sympathize with the Shank family. On the other hand, I see why a company would have this policy.......if people are allowed to get double coverage from an accident (once from insurance and once from a lawsuit) insurance premiums will go through the roof! What a short memory you have....I believe that this has been a major topic of conversation during the last 18 months of campaigning.

    April 1, 2008 at 11:08 pm |
  20. Ken

    It is interesting why no one has questioned why the lawyers walked away with over half of her settlement. She received less than half of her total settlement.

    I think that Wal-Mart made the right choice in letting her keep the money.

    April 1, 2008 at 11:07 pm |
  21. Stephanie

    We collectively are appalled by Walmart wanting the money back....how did the lawyers that originally represented her with the trucking company end up with over $500,000 of the 1 million dollar settlement?

    April 1, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  22. John Waytena


    April 1, 2008 at 11:05 pm |
  23. Arwa

    Wow Now that's news baby!!!!
    congrats to the family. It's nice to know they came to their senses.

    April 1, 2008 at 11:03 pm |
  24. Luis Briseno

    I guess walmart figure it out, lose 470,000 or lose millions of customers.

    I live in Guadalajara Mexico... and I am Glad Debbie gets the money... but damage is done let see how many people forgive walmart.

    I wonder how many cases like this one there are out there. 1 Down many more to go....

    Congrats... Debbie

    Cheers from Guadalajajra, Mexico.

    April 1, 2008 at 11:03 pm |
  25. CJ Krause

    This is great news for that woman, I think we're all in agreement on that one. But don't be fooled everyone, this is just Wal*Mart's way of taking the pressure off itself. As soon as everyone is there shopping away again, they'll be back to their old tricks. Don't forget this glimpse of what Wal*Mart is really about. Or simply rent a one of the several documentaries that shows their "interrogation-room" style meeting with vendors and business practices that send jobs overseas. This is not an evil or immoral policy, it's the company.

    April 1, 2008 at 11:02 pm |
  26. Eugenie Tacoma

    Thank goodness Wal-Mart woke up and did the right thing. That still doesn't make them a good company. I have not been in a Wal-mart store for ten years and I don't plan to ever. I go to all of the good stores where I can get good stuff that lasts along time. I will continue to do so. Wal-Mart can keep their china crap. Thankyou 360, very good work.

    April 1, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  27. Franky

    Be cool Wal-Mart, be cool......don't disappoint me.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:51 pm |
  28. peggotty

    Way to go!!! If it weren't for you no one would have know about this, and so many have benefited.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:46 pm |
  29. Sonya from North Carolina

    I have a ? Randi,

    Would you follow up with Wal-Mart to see if they acutally will change their healthcare policy guidelines. I would like to see Wal-Mart really make changes to their 'fine print'. Thanks.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:41 pm |
  30. Don

    You did an awesome job on the Wal-Mart report, Randi. Way to go, keep up the good work.

    You are truly bless person.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:39 pm |
  31. Connie

    So glad that the story and our opinions can make an impact. This story empowers us all.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:38 pm |
  32. Karen, Leesburg VA

    Anderson and Randi–
    Follow up question and info on the Walmart story: Was it true that there was an allegation that Debbie had fallen asleep while driving which contributed to the accident? Because the drive of the truck was killed and there were no other witnesses the trucking company was therefore liable? I'm not suggesting that we start blaming the victim–as if anybody would diliberately do anything to cause an accident with a semi. However, from what I was told by a Walmart employee family member, it seems the support for Debbie being able to keep the money from the health insurance plan was not universal.

    I completely agree that the insurance plans are far too quick to go about the business of recouping every last penny they might have paid to a beneficiary, regardless of the circumstances. I have even fielded one of those "pay it back" letters and the attempt to recoup costs from as little as a $1,000 settlement my elderly mother recently received! Where as, these companies are no where near as "liberal" in their interpreation of a beneificary's claim.

    I am glad Walmart found it's conscience in this instance. You have certainly shown what shining the media spotlight on corporate behavior can achieve!

    April 1, 2008 at 10:36 pm |
  33. martha

    I am so glad to hear that Wal Mart has "seen the light" and decided to drop their cruel lawsuit against the Shanks. Finally, they did the right thing! God Bless the Shank family.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:35 pm |
  34. Nan

    I feel for the family. This is a tragic and difficult situation. I' not sure which state they live in, but I understood that the husband divorced his wife and had applied for Medicaid,which I assume she is getting
    So now that Walmart has allowed the family to not pay back the amount of the already paid medical bills,and after the million dollar settlement, or what is left of it (@200,000, is her husband going to cancel the Medicaid, or does she now qualify to have both?
    Is her husband now going to remarry her?
    This is very controversial. It doesn't seem fair to others if gets all this assistance. There are others that do not have even this much, and no one is helping them.
    Walmart is just saving their name. Does this husband or I should say ex-husband value money and publicity more than his now ex-wife ?

    April 1, 2008 at 10:34 pm |
  35. mike

    Certainly this is a tragic story, and I'm relieved for the Shank family that they will have access to the remaining funds for Mrs. Shank's care. However, to me, the real travesty is the fact that from an original award of "nearly $1 million," almost $600,000 of it went toward "legal fees" necessary to secure the award from the trucking company and its insurance carrier. If you want to point a finger somewhere, seems to me maybe you should start there.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:34 pm |
  36. Winnie Burton

    Great job 360! I suppose some people out there think Wal-Mart would have done the right thing by letting the Shanks keep the money with out 360 covering this story. No Way!! Greed. Pure Greed. In Georgia we have over 10,000 of Wal-Mart's employees on Medicade. What does that tell you? They care? Wake up people Wal-Mart is evil.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
  37. Tom- NE

    I just saw the story about the woman from Missouri and I am very pleased that Wal mart relented. I think that they did the right thing. However, I am a little bothered by your legal analyst passing any judgement on Wal mart. Everyone agrees they did the right thing even your analyst, even though Wal mart was within their legal right to recuperate the money they spent. But what bothers me is that your legal analyst has the nerve to say about how good Wal mart was in dropping the case, when colleagues of his profession took a larger portion of the settlement in legal fees than what Wal mart was trying to recuperate. Where's the generous nature of lawyers who profitted greatly from this woman's tragedy

    April 1, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
  38. Aly

    Good Job to CNN
    Not only you made difference in this family 's life. You made it as well for the rest of Wall-Mart employees.
    Randi ,keep up a good work .

    April 1, 2008 at 10:32 pm |
  39. tony

    Randi, this is a wonderful job. Those monsters should never have done this to that poor woman in the first place. They reversed their decission only because of the public anger. Me or my family will never shop wal-mart not only because of this story, but also because of their inferior quality merchendise. I can save money by shopping good durable goods than wal-mart's chinese garbage.


    April 1, 2008 at 10:29 pm |
  40. Mary Bristol

    I just wrote the CEO of Wal-Mart to tell him I had decided to never shop at their stores again after seeing the coverage of the woman who worked for them and how they were taking her small amount of settlement money to care for her at this point in time. I raised 7 children running to Wal-Mart almost daily for their needs, gifts, clothes and school supplies. I am happy Wal-Mart changed their position on this matter and I wish they would take this woman into their "family" and help her some more.It would make my return to shopping there a happier experience.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:29 pm |
  41. Doug

    Great job in airing this story. I'm happy but amazed they backed down. I was injured while working at Wal-Mart Feb. 20, 2007. I suffered 7 stitches, the complete loss of hearing in my right ear and 40% in my left ear. This along with the dizziness, vertigo, and short-term memory issues. To date Wal-Mart work comp has only paid the $68 for the drug screen following the accident-which of course I passed with flying colors. My only question is how many others they have done this to before your story forced thier hand. Sam Walton must be turning in his grave with what current management has done with the company he spent his life building.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:28 pm |
  42. c.e. ama

    Dear Mr. Cooper and Ms. Kaye,
    I just watched your story on Wal-Mart and the story of Mrs. Shank. Bravo. I am extemely happy that public opinion has forced this mega billion dollar company to do the right thing. I remember reading about this story a couple of months ago in the Wall Street Journal and how totally outraged I was that they were going to sue this family. As Mr. Toobin pointed out, they had every right, but what justification does a billion dollar company, that robs Americans of jobs and a decent health care plan have to file this lawsuit. I am overjoyed that your coverage forced Wal-Mart to find their humanity.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:27 pm |
  43. Pother Pothik


    Wonderful job. This victory was achieved only for your outstanding reporting. If I would have power, I would honor you by giving Alfred I. duPont Award right now. But I will keep saying this until the duPont-Columbia jury select you as a winner.

    Maple Grove, MN

    April 1, 2008 at 10:26 pm |
  44. Patricia

    Well done, Randi– good for you for staying on the story. As a follow-up, why not ask Senator Hillary Clinton about WalMart. In a previous incarnation, Hillary served on their board for seven years and presumably still holds sway with them Perhaps she might advocate for others in the future who may be punished mercilessly by Walmart.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:25 pm |
  45. Gary

    Though I'm no fan of Wal-Mart and am pleased to see they aren't pressing to get the money back. Everyone has overlooked the SHARK attorneys who took the majority of this womans trust fund. What justifies them taking over $500,000????

    April 1, 2008 at 10:23 pm |
  46. Lucian Lott

    Since you were instrumental in getting the 2nd most charatable organization in the world to give up their legal rights in this case, why don't you go after the attorneys who took 1/3 of the awards in the first place? Could it be that CNN executives are scared of lawsuits themselves? It seems that no one is willing to take on the real bad guys in this case–the attorneys!

    April 1, 2008 at 10:23 pm |
  47. Renee

    What a great turn a round, I was ready to boycott WM for this stance and I appreciate what ever made them change the decison– most likely the amount of press the past days. Good move Wm, you really do have heart!!

    April 1, 2008 at 10:22 pm |
  48. Pat

    Kudos, Randi Kaye. This would not have happened without your story . Because of it, somone did some soul searching and perhaps put themselves in this sitauation to help thm reach this decision. Probably not, it was more likely about $ and the fallout, but whatever the reason, it itouches the hearts of Americans and their faith in society that the big players will do what is right , even if it is forced upon them. My faith in society and doing what is right has been somewhat restored!

    April 1, 2008 at 10:21 pm |
  49. Mike

    Don't ever think for even an instant Wal-Mart after further review did so the family of one of their associates didn't have to suffer. BS. This is based solely on Wal-Marts bottom line and damn sure not out of the goodness of their hearts. Had CNN and MSNBC not brought this to the surface this family would have been paying Wal-Mart $470K .
    For any corporation to claim they pay health insurance for any employee including Wal-Mart is laughable nothing in the world is free including heath insurance . Employees pay it themselves they just never pay it out of their earnings they merely get lower wages to cover it . So for any corporation to claim they are recovering their loses is pure BS.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:20 pm |
  50. Katherine

    I refuse to shop at walmart. Even though there prices are cheap I refuse to go into there store. I would rather shop at a store with good values that those multi billion dollar corporations. I just saw the stats on walmart. They make 356 BILLION dollars a year. I doubt 400,000 is going to make them file for bankruptcy. The donate to charity(so does many other smaller shops in this country) so why isnt this considered a charity case. Its ridiculous. I hated walmart before and I hate it now. Will never shop there.

    April 1, 2008 at 10:20 pm |
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