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Wal-Mart Wants Disabled Woman's Long-Term Care Money Back

Debbie Shank suffered severe brain damage after a traffic accident 8 years ago that robbed her of much of her memory. She cries every time she's told that her son was killed in Iraq, as if hearing the news for the first time.

After winning the lawsuit against the trucking company involved in the accident, her husband put the money in a trust to pay for Debbie's long-term care.

And now, retail giant Wal-Mart wants that money:

Eight years ago, Shank was stocking shelves for the retail giant and signed up for Wal-Mart's health and benefits plan. [...]

Wal-Mart had paid out about $470,000 for Shank's medical expenses, but in 2005, Wal-Mart's health plan sued the Shanks for the same amount.

The Shanks didn't notice in the fine print of Wal-Mart's health plan policy that the company has the right to recoup medical expenses if an employee collects damages in a lawsuit.

In fact, they want the money so badly that the sued the family (and won):

Wal-Mart spokesman John Simley, who called Debbie Shank's case "unbelievably sad," replied in a statement: "Wal-Mart's plan is bound by very specific rules. ... We wish it could be more flexible in Mrs. Shank's case since her circumstances are clearly extraordinary, but this is done out of fairness to all associates who contribute to, and benefit from, the plan."

Jim Shank said he believes Wal-Mart should make an exception.

"My idea of a win-win is -- you keep the paperwork that says you won and let us keep the money so I can take care of my wife," he said.

The family's situation is so dire that last year Jim Shank divorced Debbie, so she could receive more money from Medicaid.

Jim Shank, 54, is recovering from prostate cancer, works two jobs and struggles to pay the bills. He's afraid he won't be able to send their youngest son to college and pay for his and Debbie's care.

"Who needs the money more? A disabled lady in a wheelchair with no future, whatsoever, or does Wal-Mart need $90 billion, plus $200,000?" he asked.

Legally, Wal-Mart is in the right. But morally, I don't think so. There's a Wal-Mar near where I work, and I shop there quite often. But after reading this, perhaps it's time to go to Target, which is a just little farther away.

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Yes Wal-Mart is evil (for reason too many to list).
Yes the Shanks need the money more (so do lots of other families).
But, Wal-mart is simply not responsible for the Shanks misfortune.

For those that call for boycotting Wal-Mart I suggest instead that you continue to shop there and donate the money you save to the Shanks. Collectively that would could generate millions, that is if you all "put your money where your mouth is".
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Before we blame the woman's attorneys for not getting a larger settlement, it might be worth considering that none of us have the facts of the settlement at our disposal. I work in a law office and know from experience that sometimes it's unfortunately necessary to accept a crappy settlement offer for the simple reason that it's all the money that is available. $700K+ may not have been anywhere near enough for this woman's long-term needs, but if that is all that was available, they can't just go down in the basement and print up some more cash to increase it.

Incidentally, the costs of taking cases like this through the court system are a lot higher than most people appreciate. Physicians often charge anywhere from $400 to $1200 an hour for their testimony and for performing medical evaluations for accident victims. Transcripts are hundreds of pages long and will usually cost three to five dollars a page. Expert witnesses not only charge hundreds of dollars an hour for their services, but have to be paid for travel expenses and accommodations. The law firm will also likely have hundreds of hours of time tied up in the case -- hours for which they won't be paid at all unless they win the case.

Wal-Mart, meanwhile, needs to understand that while they may have the right to recover this money, that doesn't mean that doing so is a good idea. I can only imagine how their employees feel when they read about this case -- "If they did it to her, they'll do it to me..." Between decreased employee morale and the loss of customers from the publicity, it's certain to cost them far more than they recovered in the lawsuit. And Sam Walton certainly wouldn't have approved.
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Boo! to all parties involved that obviously failed this woman on so many levels. Trucking companies, retailers, insurance agencies, attorneys, and maybe even on a very tiny level the husband whose only real mistake was probably trusting the wrong people. A whole lot of people should feel pretty rotten right now, but most of them probably don't. It's easy for us to vent our anger in one or two directions, but there are so many to blame. She is a good apple trapped in a barrel full of rotten ones. I hope this family overcomes, in some way or another, this
(one of many) trial.
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Mandy-

You have no idea what you're talking about. Walmart sucks, but you're just making things up. You say that no other major corporation would have sued? That's just wrong-- it happens all the time. The only reason this case is making such big news is because it's Walmart and this woman has such extenuating circumstances. Walmart *should* make a donation (that's right, a donation, because they are entitled to that money), but these people should also be calling attorneys who specialize in legal malpractice. Had her attorneys been at all competent this would have been handled years ago. Jesus, I'm a paralegal and I know when people tell me they have a health plan through their employer to make sure it's not an ERISA plan before I distribute their funds. You can get mad and bash Walmart all you want, but you are angry at the wrong person. If you don't like ERISA plans, get mad at the government. Or boycott every company that uses one (and you'll be boycotting a lot). If you think the woman deserved more money, go after her attorneys. Maybe $1 million was the most their insurance company would pay but I find it hard to believe a jury wouldn't have made the company pay more.
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