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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.

Link


Um this is a super common legal activity called subrogation. WalMart (an evil company none the less) was nice enough to pay her expenses while she sued the trucking company. She sued the trucking company for money for those same expenses, and won. She's getting double paid here, which in the American legal system, doesn't work. She should have to give the money that WalMart paid in the interim back because she's getting her expenses paid twice. It's not heartless or punitive - its simple legal activity. The same happens with your insurance company. If you get injured in an accident, your insurance company will pay your medical expenses. If you sue the person who is responsible for the accident, and you win medical expenses paid from them, then you have to give the money back to your insurance company that they paid. It's because of this that people can't double dip when there is an accident.
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That's a tragic story so I hate to nitpick, but I think you mean "farther" not "further".
See here: http://www.wsu.edu/%7Ebrians/errors/farther.html
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"Legally, Wal-Mart is in the right. But morally, I don’t think so"

That doesn't make any sense. The law is based on common morality. Those people won money in a lawsuit that was intended to cover her care. Then, they greedily had her employer pay for her medical bills, which should have been paid using the money from the suit. This is insurance fraud.
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She (or more likely her husband) committed insurance fraud by taking money from the company to pay bills that the original settlement was meant to pay. Morally, the company was in the right in suing them to reclaim the money.
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Lies, Tim. :p

Also - how many more things like this have to happen or people have to be screwed by Wal-Mart for people to actually stop shopping there, or give a crap that it's happening? I dunno, I guess those low, low prices are too much to resist? ;)
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Walmart stinks!!!! So greedy! I'm glad we have Meijers stores where I live to compete with them. Every Meijers is like a Super Walmart.
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Eh, I still like Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart saw to it that the expenses were paid for. If they trucking company lawsuit didn't come through, Wal-Mart already had it covered. But since it did come through, she got what was essentially an advance on her settlement. The article didn't say how much she got from the trucking company, but it's probably more than the 470,000 if she had a competent lawyer--that number only included medical costs, and she's probably entitled to a lot more. If she only won just enough to cover the medical costs, then the legal system is the bad guy. Your thoughts?
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I agree with Xan. sounds like the type of "tug at your heartstrings story that sounds like horrible corporate maliciousness on the surface, but once you take an objective look it's more complicated than wallmart stealing money from the mentally challenged. It's easy to jump on the anti wallmart bandwagon, but given the overtly right vs. left political aspects to the issue, wallmart is probably far different than it's portrayal by the media and the anti corporation nazis. also, calling wallmart greedy is ignorant. the nature of capitalism is based on greed, and that's a good thing. everyone working for the betterment of their own lives has resulted in the most robust economic structure in human history. But if going to target makes you sleep better at night....go ahead. it's no different than going to wallmart.
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i work in a law firm and you see this kind of thing all the time. it isn't unusual for health care plans through an employer to require subrogation when a person receives a bodily injury settlement. in pennsylvania where i work, welfare can only take half of your net settlement (after legal fees) but if you have a health plan or worker's comp they can take all the settlement money. The main problem is with this woman's attorneys. They should have been in contact with the health plan and known well in advance that they would demand subrogation and presented that to the third party carrier providing liability coverage as part of the claim. If $1 million was the limit of coverage available, they could probably have quietly negotiated with Walmart rather than just giving this woman the entire settlement and ignoring Walmart's right to subrogation.
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Why isn't Wal*Mart (or more properly their insurance company) going directly after the trucking company for compensation? As I understand Subrogation that's how it's supposed to work -- the insurance company sues the trucking company on behalf of Ms. Shank to recover money they spent on her medical bills.

It seems like any additional money Ms. Shank wins herself from the trucking company for negligence, pain and suffering, and stuff beyond the scope of what the insurance covers should be hers to keep.

Seems like some details are missing from this popular press article...
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“Legally, Wal-Mart is in the right. But morally, I don’t think so”

That doesn’t make any sense. The law is based on common morality. Those people won money in a lawsuit that was intended to cover her care. Then, they greedily had her employer pay for her medical bills, which should have been paid using the money from the suit. This is insurance fraud.


Law and morality don't always go hand in hand. What is legal is not always morally right, and what is illegal isn't always wrong.
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Law and morality don’t always go hand in hand. What is legal is not always morally right, and what is illegal isn’t always wrong.

True. But I think we can all agree that someone trying to get paid twice for the same wrong is not OK.

Suppose you buy a table from Wal-Mart and it falls apart into such a pile of dust that it can't be returned. You go to Wal-Mart with the receipt and tell them what happened, and they give you your money back, even though they didn't make the defective table.

Then you go to the manufacturer of the table, who really was responsible for the defect, and THEY refund your money too. Shouldn't you have to return the money Wal-Mart gave you?

Don't get me wrong; Wal-Mart sucks and they have some truly evil lawyers (I'm a lawyer myself, and I've read the cases). But that doesn't make it OK to try to screw them; by doing so, one just lowers oneself to the same level. Wal-Mart is in the right here.
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Bob--

Usually in insurance policies, the language regarding subrogation says that the company is entitled to subrogation if the insured makes a recovery in a personal injury lawsuit. The insurance company doesn't sue the liability carrier- they are just entitled to be reimbursed if the insured gets a settlement, since that settlement is what should be used to pay their medical bills. It's kind of a shitty system because the insured is the person who gets screwed, as in this case, rather than the person who caused the accident.
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"The law is based on common morality"
Mandatory Sentencing, Death Penalty, Abortion, Affirmative Action, Seperation of Church and State, the War in Iraq...
Only a few issues that are supported by law that many Americans would be on opposit sides of the moral fence.
Rather than saving 30 cent on dish soap so that Mr.Wal-Mart can crap in a dimond encrusted toilet, why not support mom and pop?
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"True. But I think we can all agree that someone trying to get paid twice for the same wrong is not OK."

Is it the same thing? From what I understand the award money was all put into a trust for the long term care of the woman. Wal-Mart wants to recoup the money it has spent on medical expenses that has already happened. But it's as if the woman's medical expenses will just stop.

No question that Wal-Mart is acting within their legal rights. But it is seeking money that will determine the survival of the family. That's where I think morally it's not right.
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Wal-mart is the devil.

Rent/tape/buy the movie Walmart: The high cost of low price. If that doesn't make you angry I don't know what will.

I went from a sometime shopper to vowing never to go there again. It's been six months, I haven't set foot in one and don't plan to. If you act like it doesn't exist, you think of other ways to find deals and do your shopping. It's well worth it, and your local businesses and local economy will be better for it.

Ok, I'm stepping off my soapbox now.
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If Wal-Mart isn't entitled to getting its money back, then the trucking company should get their money back. If they didn't get enough money to pay the bills they should have sued the trucking company for more.

What's interesting is where it says her husband divorced her so she could scam more money out of Medicaid. They're flagrantly abusing the system.

Now they're not sure if they can afford to send their son to college. If the kid wants to go to college, maybe he'll have to work a little first, then go a little later. Get a scholarship, maybe. Others have had to.
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even if Wal-Mart is in the right here, even if this family is in the wrong, there are dozens of reasons not to shop there. Any googling for "walmart is evil" will show that. Target is a much better solution, or individual independent stores wherever possible - if only for the much better customer service (at indies) and to keep the money in your community.
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Everyone so ardently defending Walmart in this case and accusing this woman and her husband of "insurance fraud" should seriously think about the damage they are doing to their own humanity and decency. One day we will all have to answer for the evil we've done and the evil we've approved of.
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I don't think anyone is saying it's awesome that this woman's family is suffering. People are just explaining the way the system works. The problem here honestly isn't Wal-Mart(which I agree is a totally evil company). The problem is the way subrogation to health insurance providers works and the fact that this woman obviously had crap attorneys.

(FYI to the person who said to sue the trucking company for more- it's possible 1) that's all that was available (an insurance company is not obligated to pay more than the limit purchased) or 2) a jury awarded that amount. This woman's lawyers should have been negotiating WalMart's lien long before now.)
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Wow people..there is a difference between medical expenses and punitive damages. If they sued the company for things other than medical expenses (which I assume they did) then they have a right to more money. This could be a case where their lawyers really dropped the ball. The only people in the wrong here is the trucking company that caused her horrible accident..and it's interesting that they are not the ones being villainized. Walmart is entitled to being repaid by the company for the cost of their actions. The family is entitled to damages beyond and including her lifetime medical support and it appears they did not receive nearly enough in the settlement..after their legal fees they got even less than Walmart paid for medical expenses and it appears their lawyers were not worth it.

I'm surprised Walmart didn't sue the company themselves but then it's Walmart so I assume they just let the victims pay for the legal team to get that settlement while waiting behind the scenes for the payout knowing they'd just turn around and sue the family for the money since it's easier than going after a company. Walmart could have handled this better..legally they may get in trouble in the future if they just let this one slide so I don't expect them to change their minds. Also, the PR benefits for letting it slide won't do much good in this case..everybody who hates Walmart hates Walmart permanently.
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I HATE Wal*Mart. I refuse to shop there. Shame, shame on them. I hope the karma that they will receive is twice that of the anguish they have inflicted on that family.
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I quit shopping at Wal-Mart this year.
I hate that company.
The stores are filthy, the product is cheap
yet crappy, and now they are going after mentally disabled. Wal-Mart has enough money. Boycott!!!
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Everybody is yelling at Walmart. But its their insurance company that is really to blame here.
Sure Walmart could eat the cost and just pay their insurance company the 45k. But why should they. If Walmart does it for this one then the next time this happens that person has a set precedence to go to court and get them to do it for them too.
Walmart is in a no win situation here. They look bad if they don't forget about the 45k but if they do forgive the $ they stand to lose even more latter.
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Actually, this is not Wal-Mart's fault. The provisions in the policy allowing this are mandated by Federal Law (ERISA). This law allows employers to provide health insurance to workers with the insurance being considered taxable income for the workers. Additionally, the premiums paid by the company are tax deductible by the company which provides an incentive for employers to give health insurance.

Wal-Mart may have some shifty business practices but this is not one of them.

Regards.
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I am no fan of Wal-Mart, but they are doing nothing illegal OR immoral in this case.

While the woman may claim to NEED the money, what she did was illegal according to the documents she signed. While I feel sorry for her condition, we should also take responsibilities for our own actions.

Besides that, her settlement should have payed all her bills. And the insurance agreement she signed said if she got any settlement that she would pay back said money.

All Wal-Mart is doing is asking her to keep her promise she made.

There are other things far worse Wal-Mart does. Choose your battles.
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"Everyone so ardently defending Walmart in this case and accusing this woman and her husband of “insurance fraud” should seriously think about the damage they are doing to their own humanity and decency. One day we will all have to answer for the evil we’ve done and the evil we’ve approved of."

WTF? I did no damage by saying that Walmart was in the right in this instance to humanity or decency. Save the crocodile tears, seriously.

And yes one day we will. Remember that the next time you go throwing stones.
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"But after reading this, perhaps it’s time to go to Target, which is a just little farther away."

But if you do that, you'll be contributing more to Global Warming! I think you're in a Catch 22 here...

Besides, Target is just as "evil." But Target gets away with it because it's smaller than Wal-Mart, drawing less attention. Oh, and it has pretentious commercials that appeal to hipsters.
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googling "wall mart is evil"? Hahahahaha. that's a good way to get objective information. why don't you just google "everyone who agrees with my worldview" you'll probably get more bandwagons to jump on. Way to go.
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"the nature of capitalism is based on greed, and that’s a good thing. everyone working for the betterment of their own lives has resulted in the most robust economic structure in human history."

That doesn't mean greed or capitalism benefits everyone. Were these people not working for the benefit of their own lives? If the husband has to work two jobs (and divorce his disabled wife) just to financially keep his head above water, it doesn't sound like this "robust economic structure" is such a good thing for them. But I guess it is for those who are already rich. Like Wal-Mart.

And they must have gotten a really crappy settlement.
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Wow, it is refreshing to see so many objective capitalists around here. I thought I was going to be subjected to the typical anti-corporation rant, but watching objectivism unfold leaves me thinking there may be hope yet.
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"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:"

Well, *technically*, they don't want the lawsuit money, they want the long-term health car money they paid out, back. (albiet, them recieving the lawsuit money made them 'legally' be able to try to get money back).
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CNN Anderson Cooper 360 is doing a story tonight at 10 p.m. EST about the Shank case. You can learn more and take action by going to: http://action.walmartwatch.com/debbieshank.

To those who are saying that Wal-Mart is just following a common policy, I want to point out that Wal-Mart funds their own health care plan so this is just another case of them not wanting to put more money into covering the health care of their workers.
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The family didn't read the fine print, nor did their attorneys. The husband divorced his wife to actively scam the system. The former is, at best, ignorance and the latter doesn't sound very moral to me. It is, of course, very sad that this woman is suffering, but that doesn't excuse ripping off the system -- intentionally or not.

I don't shop at Wal-Mart, but I'm acquainted with the way their corporate system operates, unlike the "WALMART IZ EVIL!!!111" morons out there who don't even understand the basic principles of capitalism.

Seriously, can anyone here admit that they'd willingly pay $7 for something that they could get at Wal-Mart (the exact same item/brand) for $3? No? Well, that's why Wal-Mart has been so successful. That's supply and demand in action.

Furthermore, many people haven't any other options as to where to shop. Some rural Americans live far from a centralised town, and so a Wal-Mart is often their only store for food, clothing, etc.

Wal-Mart spends millions settling fraudulent and questionable lawsuits from scam artists. Unlike most other retailers (who almost universally have crap healthcare and benefits - it's the nature of the industry), Wal-Mart has no cap on their health insurance pay-outs in almost all cases. They also have the largest cash-giving charitable non-profit arm in the country, but you don't hear much about that. It's all EVIL, EVIL, EVIL!!
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Ah, gotta love it when the libertarian-super-captialist "lets give corporations more rights than individuals because moneh is gud" crowd descends on something like this. Leave it up to them and everyone who isn't in a boardroom will be on the street, but that's social darwinism for you - I got mine and screw you losers! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! If you have an inc after your name you can do no wrong! Until you cross a libertarian though...then look out, we'll see who's wah wah-ing then.
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"The husband divorced his wife to actively scam the system. "

What?

You arrogant fool!

I wonder if you were in a similar situation, how fast you would leap from that high horse you are sitting on.

This is clearly an extremely extenuating circumstance. If you were a multi-billion dollar corporation, would you sue this family if you could? I know I sure wouldn't. Its not like if they let this slide, a multitude of people just like this family will emerge and bankrupt Wal-Mart.

And wow, haven't read the comments at Neatorama in a while. Used to be a pretty progressive attitude here. Now its like reading a Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter blog...people suggesting its good our society is based on greed, that separation of church and state is immoral...amazing.

Whats funny is that most of the people typing those sendiments are just another cog in the pseudo-fascist corporate regime of america, the unwitting useful idiots who consistently vote against their own interests like a good GOYIM.
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Walmart the corporation has to file the lawsuit in order to prevent a bad precedent.

However, I'm sure the Walton family could easily afford to make a goodwill gesture of, oh, say the amount of money of the suit (or more).
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Whether or not Walmart has the right to do what they did is irrelevant. It is still immoral because they are hurting this family. If Walmart's insurance was so good then this discussion wouldn't even be taking place, the whole thing would be a wash from the perspective of care.

Now however, the family won't be able to pay for certain aspects of her care (eg. private room). Therefore, Walmart is not simply asking for their money back, they are directly impacting the level of care this woman receives.

I don't understand how anyone could argue from that perspective that Walmart is acting morally.
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mh: so banks shouldn't repossess the property of delinquent debtors if it would "directly impact" their quality of life? They'd never even bother making the loan in the first place.

Likewise, Walmart wouldn't have been able to cover the initial healthcare expenses without some way to recoup their money whenever possible -- in this case from the employee, but it could be a direct suit of the infringing company too. Sure, they could afford to let this one slide, but then how do they explain to the next person why they don't also get to keep the lawsuit money?

That's not to say Walmart couldn't offer some sort of alternative assistance -- perhaps paying for some new lawyers to sue the old ones who didn't ask for enough money to cover the full expense of the injuries.
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While I feel sorry for the family, Walmart is completely in the right here. They covered her expenses until she received her judgement(far far less than it should have been) Her living expenses alone should have been close to 3 million(after the atty gets his cut). Then added on top the loss of "family relations". If I was in their shoes, I would sue the lawyer that failed to read into the Walmart health contract, and failed to accurately account for the total cost of 30+ years in a nursing home. In my opinion, the lawyers got what they could, and screwed their client. Walmart is just holding to the letter of the insurance(which keeps the cost down for all of the other employees).
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Most people are not informed about insurance. WalMart is asking for medical expences (medical insurance). This is very different than Long Term Care Insurance, which Walmart would never provide to their employees and different than Long Term Disability Insurance, which Walmart should have offered. Here is the biggest fact.
WALMART IS SELF INSURED ON THEIR MEDICAL PLANS, WHICH MEAN THEY PAY FOR ANY LOSSES. THE INSURANCE COMPANY ONLY ADMINISTERS CLAIMS ON THE COMPANY'S BEHALF. MRS. SHANK HAD CONTRIBUTED TO THIS HEALTH FUND (PREMIUMS PAID). A SELF INSURED PLAN STATES THAT IT IS UP TO THE COMPANY (PLOLICY HOLDER)IF THEY WOULD LIKE TO OFFSET BY THIRD PARTY SETTLEMENTS. IT WAS ENTIRELY UP TO THEM, NOT THE INSURANCE COMPANY.
Furthermore, most large corporations are set up this way. Mainly, companies over 2000 lives. I can tell you that most major corporations would have never asked for their money back. It is bullshit that the spokemen for Walmart said that have to be fair to all associates. That is a lie! They didn't have to tell anyone. In all fairness, other employees at all companies pay for other peoples bad health, excess us of doctors etc..This is the same situation. The premium paid would have increased for all employees. WalMart makes so much money that they wouldn't have had to do this either. I plan many of the benefits for large corporations. I can asure you that no other company would have done this to this poor woman. I sent out numerous emails and called Walmart several times. I sent an email to their corporate office. I'm going to do my part to make sure people do not shop there. You shouldn't either!
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Dear Jek,

You would have done the same. I think people should be more worried about other people who abuse the system. For example, why is it acceptable to have three kids, when you can't afford them? Isn't that fraudulent? Or, all this welfare rats who refuse to get a job. These are two working individuals who paid taxes and worked their entire life. The system failed them!
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Jackro,

They are self insured, not fully insured. It has nothing to do with the insurance company. They are under administrative service only (ASO Agreement). Keep cost down? Didn't their former CEO hold a $500,000 dollar birthday party? Or is it their current one?
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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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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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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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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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