The Corporate Courts of America Hard at Work This Week

This is annoying.

A federal appeals court Tuesday struck down the first law in the nation requiring airlines to provide food, water, clean toilets and fresh air to passengers trapped in a plane delayed on the ground.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said New York’s law interferes with federal law governing the price, route or service of an air carrier.

The law was challenged by the Air Transport Association of America, the industry trade group representing leading U.S. airlines.

The court wrote that while the goals of the law were “laudable” and the circumstances prompting its adoption “deplorable,” only the federal government has the authority to impose such regulations.

Of course, never mind that the federal government would never impose “regulations” that might discomfort our captains of industry. As far as it goes, once they have our money, the rest of us are cattle.

Think that’s disgusting? No, this is disgusting.

The family of Deborah Shank has lost its last chance to stop Wal-Mart Stores from recouping hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses from an accident settlement the Shanks hoped to use for her future care in a nursing home…

After losing in federal court and again on appeal, the Shanks’ last legal hope was a bid to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yesterday, though, the court announced it wouldn’t take up the case, bringing the matter to a close.

The background: A collision with a semi-trailer truck seven years ago left former Wal-Mart employee Deborah Shank permanently brain-damaged and in a wheelchair. Mrs. Shank, who is married and has two living sons (a third recently died serving in Iraq) did win a $700,000 accident settlement from the trucking company involved. After legal fees and other expenses, the remaining $417,000 was put in a special trust to be used for Mrs. Shank’s care.

BUT… There is a clause in Wal-Mart’s health plan that Mrs. Shank didn’t notice when she started stocking shelves eight years ago. Like most company health plans, Wal-Mart’s reserves the right to recoup the medical expenses it paid for someone’s treatment if the person also collects damages in an injury suit. Many companies have this clause but have traditionally not enforced them. Times have changed.

Daphne Moore, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said, “It’s a very sad case, and we understand that people have a very emotional and sympathetic reaction.” But the plan, she said, is obligated to act in the interest of the health benefits of its employees as a whole. The benefits are designed so that when an employee does have an accident, “the plan steps in and covers those medical expenses so our associates don’t have to worry about them being covered,” and then later to reimburse the plan if and when they receive funds for the accident from a third party, she said.

Wal-Mart originally sued for nearly $470,000 in medical expenses after the May 2000 accident, charging that the Shanks had violated the terms of the health plan by not reimbursing it. But after legal fees and some medical expenses, only $417,000 of the $700,000 that Mrs. Shank was awarded remained in a special trust set up specifically for her care.

Even less than that is left. The Shank family’s grief may be compounded if and probably when Wal-Mart goes after their home and throws Mr. Shank on the street. At least Mrs. Shank has a nursing home roof over her head.

And here’s the scripture for the courts involved with decisions like these:

Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,
who write oppressive statutes,
to turn aside the needy from justice
and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be your spoil,
and that you may make the orphans your prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
in the calamity that will come from far away? (Isaiah 10:1-3)

Oops! Does that sound too much like “God damn America?” My bad.

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