No Heart at Wal-Mart: Congrats America For Fighting Corporate Greed

We as individuals often feel powerless against corporate America. Big business calls the shots and the little guy is left to cope with the fallout. However, this week’s controversy surrounding the Wal-Mart healthcare recovery suit proves that the American people can still make a difference if they will just speak up and use their voice. The following story is just one example of how the American people stepped in to save a family when corporate America and the Courts would not.

Wal-Mart, the corporate retail giant started by billionaire Sam Walton, lets nothing stop its pursuit of profit. It pays its U.S. workers an annual salary below the poverty line to keep its shelves stocked full of cheap, Chinese made products. It uses Chinese manufacturers who employ (7) seven Chinese children per day just to save on the cost of hiring one U.S. union worker per hour. It keeps importation costs lower by paying millions to lobbyists to block reforms recommended by the 9/11 Commission that would increase inspections of containers arriving at our nation’s ports. And, if one of its’ workers uses the company’s health insurance benefits to pay medical costs from an injury, Wal-Mart files a lawsuit against that worker to recoup the medical benefits received by its employee even though the worker paid the insurance premium for the policy.

The evil side of Wal-Mart became apparent to the family of former Wal-Mart employee Deborah Shank over the past few weeks. For many years, 52-year-old Deborah Shank earned minimum wage stocking Wal-Mart’s shelves at night while her husband and (3) three sons slept. In May of 2000, an 18-wheeler tractor-trailer owned by a large corporation crashed into her while she was driving her minivan. She suffered brain damage, lost most of her memory, and the ability to communicate or walk. Her family hired a trial lawyer who sued the tractor-trailer company for causing her injuries. The trucking company’s insurance carrier fought the claim and a jury award was limited to $700,000 for her pain, suffering and her loss of the ability to walk and communicate. After attorney’s fees and costs, $417,477 was placed in a trust to provide for Deborah’s daily needs resulting from her catastrophic injuries.

Immediately after Deborah received her settlement, Wal-Mart sued her family to recover the medical costs, which were paid by her Wal-Mart health insurance policy. As if the lawsuit was not bad enough for the Shank family, one of Deborah’s three (3) sons was killed in Iraq while serving in the United States Army. Instead of backing off and allowing the family to move on with their life and loss, Wal-Mart was undeterred and continued its suit against Deborah to recover the healthcare costs. While her own lawyer defended her against the suit, the family sank deeper into debt and Deborah became dependent on Medicaid and Social Security for a lifetime of medical care. Out of desparation, her trial lawyers and friends held fundraisers to raise money for the family who was now struggling just to get by.

After an unfortunate turn of events, a Bush appointed federal judge ruled in favor of Wal-Mart. (Wal-Mart chose not to present its case to a jury of Deborah’s peers). With nowhere left to turn, the Shank family was forced to pay Wal-Mart for the money that her health insurance put out for her care. Fortunately, just as Wal-Mart was attempting to collect the money from Deborah’s medical trust, both CNN and NBC broadcast the story of Wal-Mart’s conduct. The public outrage was apparent as bloggers and average people took to their computers and expressed their disgust with the company. Within days, the Wal-Mart PR machine went to work. Televisions ads were bought and interviews were held justifying Wal-Mart’s conduct. Wal-Mart then announced that it would not seek any further reimbursement from Deborah’s family.

First a trucking company and its’ negligent tractor-trailer driver took Deborah’s mind and broke her body. Then Wal-Mart, which earns more than $10 billion every year, tried to grab the money a jury awarded her for her injuries. Thankfully, the story does not end there. The Shank family was helped by “the little guy”- just average every day people who are also trying to get by. Her trial lawyer took on a large trucking company while the American people and media took on Wal-Mart for its greedy and selfish attempt to take Deborah’s settlement.

The moral of the story is that corporate America can be stopped if we will all speak up and use our voice. We must all support our local media outlets and trial lawyers that are taking risks and going against large industries with significant resources. And while old fashion letter writing never goes out of style, get online and blog for a quicker and more effective way to get the message across. Corporate America depends on us, the consumers, to keep them rich and powerful as we buy their goods and services. So lets learn how to use that as leverage to stand up for ourselves and our fellow citizens (such as the Shank family) against corporate bullying and greed.

Mininno Law Office

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