Memo Pad: Will They Blog About This Too?...

Cathy Horyn, fashion critic for The New York Times, first came up with the idea for a blog in August 2006.

TAKEDOWN IN AISLE 5: MSNBC "Countdown"'s Keith Olbermann has waged a battle against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for suing one of its former employees, Debbie Shank, 52, for $470,000 in medical expenses paid for her care after a car accident left her brain damaged. Olbermann has named the mass retailer to his Worst Person in the World list for four nights in a row, and says his fight with Wal-Mart will continue so long as its pursuit of money from Shank continues. "If they continue to do the morally indefensible to this woman, no matter what their legal rights may be, we will keep reminding people that's what they're supporting when they go to Wal-Mart. And we'll do it nightly, and indefinitely," said Olbermann via e-mail.

In 2001, Shank was left with severe brain damage (her short-term memory is virtually nonexistent) after being hit by a semitruck. Her medical expenses were paid for by Wal-Mart, and Shank won close to $1 million in a settlement from the trucking company and, after paying out legal fees, was left with $417,000. But a clause in the retailer's benefits agreement says the store can recoup medical fees paid if an injured employee receives damages from a lawsuit. Wal-Mart, which earned more than $11 billion in profits last year, sued Shank for $470,000, and won. Shank appealed the ruling in the summer, but lost again. Six days later, her 18-year-old son was killed in Iraq. "Wal-Mart, may your stores melt in the hot sun," Olbermann declared.

Daphne Moore, Wal-Mart's corporate communications director, responded in a statement: "This is a very sad case and we understand that people will naturally have an emotional and sympathetic reaction. While the Shank case involves a tragic situation, the reality is that the health plan is required to protect its assets so that it can pay the future claims of other associates and their family members. These plans are funded by associate premiums and company contributions. Any money recovered is returned to the health plan, not to the business. This is done out of fairness to everyone who contributes to and benefits from the plan. The Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal of the case, which concludes all litigation. While Wal-Mart's benefit plan was entitled to more than the amount that remained in the Shank trust, the plan only recovered the funds remaining in that trust," which according to reports amounted to about $277,000. The spokeswoman did not respond specifically to Olbermann's TV battle. — Stephanie D. Smith
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