52-year old Deborah Shank won't be having much of a Christmas this year. She's just been Scrooged by her former employer, Wal-Mart.
Shank used to work for the retail giant at its store in Cape Girardieu, Mo., until seven years ago when the car she was driving was broadsided by a tractor-trailer. The accident left Shank with permanent brain damage, unable to walk or even communicate with her family.
Wal-Mart's employee health insurance plan picked up the woman's medical expenses - until - until, that is, her family settled with the trucking company involved for a not-so-whopping $417,000. Wal-Mart, which had paid about $470,000 for Shank's medical care demanded the money, all of it, and a federal court judge agreed. Update - On March 18th, 2008, the United States Supreme Court crushed the Shanks' last hope, dismissing, without reasons, their final appeal. A local paper in their state called the situation "Dickensian."
No question about it. Wal-Mart was legally entitled to scoop Shank's entire settlement, every last dime of it. And so it did.
Of course the Shanks didn't have this problem front and centre on their minds for very long. Shortly after Wal-Mart won its case their son Jeremy was killed in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times summed up Wal-Mart's greed quite succinctly:
Doing what the law allows isn't the same as doing the right thing, however. The company made itself whole at the expense of a helpless former employee who will never be whole again. Instead of having some resources to improve her care, Shank will receive only the basic services afforded her by Medicaid and Social Security. Nor will the trust fund be in a position to reimburse Medicaid (i.e., taxpayers), which stood to collect any unspent money upon Shank's death.
Wal-Mart has spent the last few years working hard to rebut health care reformers, labor unions, anti-globalization groups and other critics who've argued that it puts profits ahead of humanity. While its advertising campaigns try to put a friendlier spin on the company, its behavior toward Shank tells a different story. If Wal-Mart can't restrain itself, perhaps Congress should prevent health plans from draining settlements won by injured workers with more bills to pay.
Do yourself and the rest of us a favour this Christmas. Stop shopping yourself or your neighbour out of a job - just say no to Scrooge, shun Wal-Mart.