Jackson, Missouri - Debbie Shank breaks down in tears everytime she's told her 18-year-old son, Jeremy, was killed in Iraq.
A 52-year-old mother of three attended her son's funeral, but she continues to ask how's he doing. When her family reminds her that he's dead, she weeps as if hearing the news for the first time.
Shank suffered severe brain damage after a traffic accident nearly 8 years ago that robbed her of much of her short-term memory and left her in a wheelchair and living in a nursing home.
It was the beginning of a series of battles-both personally and legal-that loomed for Shank and her family. One of their biggest was Wal-Marts health plan.
Eight years ago, Shank was stocking shelves for the retail giant and signed up for Wal-Marts health and benefits plan.
Two years after the accident, Shank and her husband, Jim, were awarded about $1 million in a lawsuit against the trucking company involved in the crash. After legal fees were paid, $417,000 was placed in a trust to pay for Debbie Shanks long-term care.
Wal-Mart had paid out about $470,000 for Shanks medical expenses and later sued for the same amount. However, the court ruled it can only recoup what is left in the familys trust.
The Shanks didnt notice in the fine print of Wal-Marts health plan policy that the company has the right to recoup medical expenses if an employee collects damages in a lawsuit.
The family's attorney, Maurice Graham, said he informed Wal-Mart about the settlement and believed the Shanks would be allowed to keep the money.
"We assumed after three years, they [Wal-Mart] had made a decision to let Debbie Shank use this money for what is was intended to," Graham said.
The Shanks lost their suit to Wal-Mart. Last summer, the company appealed the ruling-but also lost it. One week later, their son was killed in Iraq.
"They are quite within their rights. But I just wonder if they need it that bad," Jim Shank said.
In 2007, the retail giant reported net sales in the third quarter of $90 billion.
Legal or not, CNN asked Wal-Mart why the company pursued the money.
Wal-Mart spokesman, John Simley, who called Debbie Shanks case "unbelievably sad," replied in a statement. " Wal-Marts plan is bound by very specific rules. ....We wish it could be more flexible in Mrs. Shanks 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 wont be able to send their youngest son to college and pay for his and Debbies 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.
The family's attorney agrees.
"The recovery that Debbie Shank made was recovery for future lost earnings, for her pain and suffering," Graham said.
"She'll never be able to work again. Never have a relationship with her husband or childern again. The damage she recovered was for much more than just medical expenses."
Graham said he believes Wal-Mart should be entitled to only about $100,000. Right now, about $277,000 remains in the trust-far short of the $470,000 Wal-Mart wants back.
Refusing to give up the fight, the Shanks appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But just last week, the high court said it would not hear the case.
Graham said the Shanks have exhausted all their resources and there's nothing more they can do but go on with their lives.
Jim Shank said he's disappointed with the Supreme Court's decision not to hear the case--not for the sake of his family--but for those who might face similar circumstances.
For now, he said the family will figure out a way to get by and "do the best we can for Debbie."
"Luckily, she's oblivious to everything," he said. "We dont tell her what's going on because it will just upset her."
Brain-damaged woman at center of Wal-Mart suit
Read you own insurance plan. Most likley it contains the same clause.
Sounds to me as if they had a loser for a Lawyer. He should have pointed this out from the get go. And sued for twice the amount. Then done the entire thing pro-bono...since he is SO concerned.
Bet he wasn't concerned while he was taking money for the appeals either.
Well if the company has a clause that allows them to collect from a judgment
Then the families should be able to collect the insurance premiums paid
Those attorneys should have been able to figure in a separate pain and suffering clause that couldn't be touched
Looks like Wal-Mart is dropping the suit now from what I heard on the news this AM. I think they realize they were looking really bad racking in trillions of dollars while suing a brain-damaged woman...not good PR to be sure. I HATE Wal-Mart, but dropping this suit really is the right thing to do. I wish we had a Meijer store here, SIGH.
Even though Wal-Mart was within their rights.
What I DO NOT understand, is how Wal-Marts PR people were trumped by the Wal-Mart lawyers, from the beginning.
I'm not a rocket sceintist by ANY measure of the stick. But if I made the money they did last year, I would have told my lawyers to go p### up a rope. Let her have the money.
This is going to be the PR nightmare from hell for Wal-mart regardless of what they do.
And this wasn't WalMart suing so much as it was their insurance carrier. But it sounds more ominous to say "Wal Marts health plan" than say "Blue Cross Blue Shield" when you're trying to make a political statement.
This is a standard clause in nearly every health insurance policy. Go read yours, you'll probably find the same thing.
From the description that the lawyer gave of the accident, it looks like she tried to make a uturn and got hit broadside when she pulled out in front of the truck. IMO she shouldn't have gotten a dime.
As for PR, the American public fortunately has a short attention span so this will be forgotten in a couple of weeks.
Wal-Mart decided to let the Shank family keep the money and they also agreed to change their policy.
It is sad that the lawyer made out better than the Shanks but at least they didnt end up broke. It was totally ridiculous that they waited 3 years anyway before trying to get the money back. I guess they decided it was better to let them have the money instead of the bad image that Wal-Mart was drawing to theirselves (as if they havent done that already).