Cannon Fodder
December 24, 2007

Their commercial states: Know what I love about WalMart ... they really know how to help me drop the hint.

Know what I hate about WalMart ... they really know how to hit below the belt.

So, this woman works full-time for WalMart. She buys into the health insurance plan offered by the company. There's a clause there, that's in most health insurance contracts currently ... and really, what choice do you have? Do without health insurance ... attempt to get individual insurance ... or simply accept the crazy clauses added by the company you work for. Not a lot of choice when you're working for the types of wages available to most retail workers.

At any rate, she's out and about one day and the unthinkable happens. She's hit by a semi-truck. Hospitalized ... eventually the dust settles ... she's a paraplegic and brain damaged. Will need a respirator to continue breathing. Special wheelchair. Probably at least some hospice care when she returns home. Definitely the house will need to be remodeled to accommodate her new condition.

The family sues the trucking company and wins enough to pay for the home renovations. Pay the hospital bills.

And then WalMart's health insurance carrier exercised the clause which allows them to sue the Shank family to recover the $470,000 dollars it paid out for her care following the accident. Now, the victim of this accident owes WalMart's health insurance carrier another $10000 ... after they've already given them all the rest of the money from the settlement.

Quoted from:
The Shanks and WalMart

Few such cases have attracted as much attention in legal circles as the Shanks'. Mrs. Shank took a job in 1999 stocking shelves at a Wal-Mart store in Cape Girardieu, Mo. She jumped at the shift from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. so that she could spend days at home with her three sons, Mr. Shank says. After a probation period, she qualified for benefits under the Wal-Mart health plan in February 2000.
One day about three months later, as she and a girlfriend were touring local yard sales, a semi-trailer truck plowed into the driver's side of her minivan. Her friend's injuries were minor, but Mrs. Shank suffered major brain trauma and spent the next several weeks in intensive care. She drifted in and out of a coma, and the hospital, for months.
"One doctor didn't give her any chance," says Mr. Shank, a maintenance worker at Southeast Missouri State University. Her medical bills climbed past $460,000. The health plan paid them promptly. "They were terrific in that respect," he says.
It also sent Mr. Shank several notices that he was to inform Wal-Mart's health plan before he settled any suit. In 2002, the Shanks did sue and won a settlement from G.E.M. Transportation Inc., owner of the truck. The firm had only $1 million in liability coverage, though. For his own losses, Mr. Shank received $200,000, of which $119,000 remained after legal expenses. He says he spent most of it toward a one-story house fitted with ramps and wider doors, which is more accessible than the family's previous three-level home.
Mrs. Shank's own settlement was $700,000. After legal expenses and attorney fees, the remaining $417,477 was placed in a court-created special trust designed specifically for Mrs. Shank's future care. The Shanks' lawyer, Maurice Graham, wrote the Wal-Mart health plan informing them. Mrs. Shank had received no funds directly, he said, and therefore had nothing to pay Wal-Mart back.
Nearly three years went by, Mr. Shank says, before they heard again from Wal-Mart. Mrs. Shank struggled a year rotating in and out of the hospital and rehabilitation programs. She could no longer use her right arm or three fingers on her left hand because of neurological damage. She couldn't feed or dress herself and conversations with her family were limited to all but simple questions. Eventually, her husband moved her to a nursing home for around-the-clock care. Medicare and Medicaid pay for the nursing home. Mr. Shank used some of the trust's proceeds to continue paying a private aide to care for her there.
"We wanted her to have a decent quality of life, and we still had the money," he says. He hoped he could also use it to pay the roughly $130,000 in bills for Mrs. Shank's rehabilitation and a return hospital visit after her coverage expired.
But in August 2005, Wal-Mart re-emerged with a lawsuit against the Shanks demanding repayment for $469,216 in medical costs out of their settlement. It charged that the Shanks had violated the terms of the health plan by not reimbursing it. The company also demanded payment of legal fees and interest for the cost of suing the Shanks for the money.
Mr. Graham, the Shanks' attorney, says he approached Wal-Mart's attorneys about negotiating a compromise, but was told the health plan wanted to proceed with the lawsuit. "We're not contending that Wal-Mart isn't entitled to a payment. We're saying they're entitled to one based on equity," he says. Since Mrs. Shank wasn't fully compensated for her damages in the first place, he argues, Wal-Mart should also expect only partial reimbursement.
Administrators of employer-financed health plans "have an obligation to participants to be impartial," the Wal-Mart spokeswoman says. "Virtually all health plans include subrogation provisions as a way to control health plan costs."
In August last year, U.S. district judge Lewis Blanton sided with Wal-Mart, ruling that when Mrs. Shank signed on to Wal-Mart's health plan she was obligated to abide by its terms.
The ruling came six days before the Shanks' 18-year-old son, Jeremy, was killed in September last year in Iraq shortly after he arrived in the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division.
"I wanted to give up at that point, tell Wal-Mart they won," Mr. Shank says, but his lawyer, Mr. Graham, said he'd continue with appeals.
Mrs. Shank went to Jeremy's funeral. But because of memory problems due to her injuries, she gets confused about what happened. On a recent morning, she cried several times and asked what had happened to her middle son. Mr. Shank says that he obtained a divorce from Mrs. Shank this year, partly because of advice from a health-care administrator that she might be more eligible for public aid as a single woman. Mrs. Shank, who has been declared incompetent by a court, hasn't been informed of the divorce by her family.

What kills me is that WalMart insurance carrier let three years go past before deciding to pursue "their" money. Three years in which the family attempted to put their lives back together. To make sure that Mrs. Shank would have a good quality of what remained of her life.

Now, the family is in pieces. Changed beyond the telling of it.

They thought they were lucky to get a settlement out of the trucking company. And, they were to a certain extent. But since that point, their luck turned back to the same luck that led to Mrs. Shank being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the semi came plowing into her mini-van.

The luck of so many Americans who are forced to live on small income and seen as simply "cannon fodder" in the war of the corporations to gain gold and power.

That sentence is not meant to be as over-dramatic as it may sound. Instead, it is meant to reference early times. When the powerful simply didn't think the underclasses mattered. That they were simple cannon fodder, meant to be sacrificed so that the powerful might live well and heartily.

Sadly, this seems the one lesson in history that we are condemned to repeat in some kind of Sisyphean cycle of hell.

Posted by Red Monkey at December 24, 2007 1:08 AM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

Ugh! That is

And yet people still shop there. Precisely the same type of people (in many cases) who would be used as horribly by the company if they worked there. Why, oh why, won't people learn?

December 24, 2007 3:32 AM


Jodi said:

this still angers me and brings tears.....

December 24, 2007 8:20 AM


Pand0raWilde said:

I wrote to Hel*Mouth about this--I'll publish my answer after New Years' Day when I'm back to semi-healthy.

December 28, 2007 5:16 PM


Mark Stoneman said:

Ugh. Just when I was feeling almost half-way good about this country, you give me another reason to want to flee.

January 6, 2008 9:17 AM
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