Wednesday, April 02, 2008

An answer to some stupid questions

So, you may have heard this story.

Debbie Shank, who worked at WalMart, was injured when a truck ran into her minivan. She informs WalMart of the situation, and her intention to seek damages. Why does she inform WalMart? Because WalMart has, as part of its health plan, a right to demand payment for medical bills it pays in such cases. Her lawyer settles the case against the trucking company, and after a time, there's $417,000 in a trust intended to pay for Mrs. Shank's continuing care expenses (of which there are many). WalMart sues her for $470,000 to recoup their medical bills, and wins. So, the trust fund, intended to pay for her care, was going to be emptied to pay the judgment against her.

Thankfully, WalMart has finally decided to do the right thing, and stop seeking damages from her.

I've seen a lot of idiots asking why people are so upset at WalMart for suing an accident victim to pay back her medical expenses. "Why should WalMart's medical plan pay for medical costs caused by a trucking company?" they ask. "Why shouldn't the victim of the accident pay those costs instead?"

Okay, granted, they don't quite say it like that, but that's because they haven't bothered to think about the situation in the first place.

Sure, WalMart should have a claim against the trucking company over Debbie Shank's medical bills... but not against Debbie! She's not responsible for those medical bills, the trucking company is. But because of WalMart's medical coverage contract, the courts found her responsible to WalMart for medical bills that she never would have incurred except for the action of a third party.

To create a situation in which an accident victim has to fight for the best interests of her insurance company (rather than concentrating only on her own best interests) is reprehensible. WalMart is a big company; it can, and should, fight its own battles. Asking its injured employees to fight for WalMart, at their own expense, is just plain wrong. But that's how WalMart wrote up their insurance plan. "If someone hurts you, you have to fight for our interests, even if it's at the expense of your own."

This time, WalMart has done the right thing... but we should ask ourselves if we can trust them the next time.

If it requires changes to the law, those changes should be made, but this kind of situation should never be allowed to happen again.

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