Brain-damaged ex-worker must pay $470,000 to Wal-Mart
By Jonathan J. Cooper
POST-DISPATCH WASHINGTON BUREAU
Tuesday, Mar. 18 2008
WASHINGTON — The family of a Missouri woman must reimburse Wal-Mart for nearly
a half-million dollars in medical expenses now that the U.S. Supreme Court has
refused to review her case.
The court on Monday let stand a ruling by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in
St. Louis requiring Debbie Shank of Cape Girardeau County to pay nearly
$470,000 to Wal-Mart.
The appeal was the last legal recourse for the family of the 52-year-old Shank,
a mother of three who was critically injured in a car accident eight years ago.
She suffered a brain injury that took her memory and left her with very little
ability to move or communicate. She has lived in a nursing home since she was
released from the hospital.
"It's been kind of hard on us," Nathan Shank, Debbie Shank's 17-year-old son,
said Monday when told about the court's decision.
Nathan Shank said that with her case in limbo, his mother already had lost a
private caregiver and might be moved out of her private room in the nursing
According to legal documents, Shank's medical bills — totaling $469,216 — were
covered by a health insurance program at Wal-Mart, where Shank worked nights
Her family later settled a lawsuit with the trucking company whose driver was
involved in the accident. After attorneys' fees and expenses, $417,477 was put
in a trust for Shank's care. That settlement money, plus $51,739 that Shank
will have to pay out of pocket, must be paid to Wal-Mart.
As is common for employer-sponsored health plans, Shank's insurance required
full repayment of medical expenses if she received money from a lawsuit.
Daphne Moore, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said the company sued "out of fairness to
everyone who contributes" to the plan.
"This is a tragic situation," Moore said. "The reality is that the health plan
is required to protect its assets so that it can pay future claims for other
associates and their family members."
The Supreme Court gave no explanation for its decision.
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