Double Duty: Attorney makes anything but short work of schedule

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Attorney Gretchen Colter, a partner at Bowman and Brooke in Troy, has made a habit of moonlighting, regularly spending her Saturdays far from the legal demands of defending product liability claims.

Her weekend work is no picnic, however. It is every bit as challenging and personally rewarding as any day spent in the high stakes world of a state or federal trial court.

From 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. each Saturday, Colter assumes a different professional persona, pulling a 12-1/2-hour shift as a nurse on the Neuroscience Unit at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. It is work for which she has been well suited since graduating with a degree in nursing from the University of Colorado in 1981.

“Nursing offers a whole different set of challenges for me, which is why I find it so interesting and professionally stimulating,” Colter said. “It has become so much a part of me, of who I am as a person. It’s a job that I love and from which I gain great satisfaction each and every time I walk into the hospital.”

Her nursing career, which began at the University of Colorado Health Science Center in Denver, has run the medical gamut, including stints in the surgical, neurological, cardiac, emergency, oncology, and orthopedic units.

“I love the clinical aspect of nursing and the high intensity of the profession,” Colter said. “I have tremendous compassion and respect for my patients. When I see what they are going through with their health challenges, it puts into perspective all the things in life that we should be thankful for each day. Being in nursing helps keep me grounded and heightens my awareness of the struggles and suffering so many people experience on a daily basis.”

Her interest in the medical field undoubtedly can be traced to her mother, Eva Lou, a longtime nurse at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac and a graduate of Rush University School of Nursing in Chicago.

“She is my best friend, and I’ve long admired her dedication and commitment to the nursing profession,” Colter said of her mother, who now lives in San Diego. “She always had a real passion for her work.”

The mother-daughter bond has grown stronger since Colter’s father, Robert, died of complications from lymphoma at age 59. A graduate of Purdue University, where he played football for the Boilermakers, her father served in the Marines during the Korean War.

“He was a very gregarious man who loved the outdoors, hunting, and fishing,” Colter said of her father, who worked as an engineer for a tool and die company. “He got the most out of life, but unfortunately his life was far too short.”

Like her father, Colter has enjoyed a lifelong fascination with the wonders of nature, working after high school at various waitressing jobs in Yellowstone Park, the Grand Teton National Park, and several ski resorts out west.

“I was a waitress at the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone,” Colter said of her western odyssey after graduation from Birmingham Seaholm High School. “It was a great experience to live in such magnificent areas out west. The beauty is simply amazing.”

A decade into her nursing career, Colter began to consider the possibility of enrolling in medical school or law school, eventually electing to return to Michigan to attend the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, where she earned her juris doctor in 1994.

“I attended law school during the day and then worked nights at Beaumont Hospital,” Colter said. “The challenge of going to school and working full time was a schedule that I was accustomed to, since most of my life I’ve always worked two jobs. It has become second nature to me. My work drives me.”

She landed a summer associate’s position with Bowman and Brooke entering her final year of law school, immediately whetting her appetite for work in the products liability field.

“The firm’s offices were located in the Fisher Building at the time and I loved getting the experience of defending product liability claims, especially those related to the medical or pharmaceutical fields,” Colter said. “My interest in science and medicine really proved to be beneficial as I became more involved in those types of cases.”

Since joining the firm 17 years ago, Colter has defended cases involving medical device, pharmaceutical, and automotive manufacturers in both state and federal courts. She has defended claims related to surgical implants, contact lens solution, laser devices, cellulite reduction, microdermabrasion, Botox, and various other aesthetic services. She currently is working with the Bowman and Brooke team that is defending the “unintended acceleration” litigation against Toyota.

In addition, she has earned numerous defense verdicts at trial for General Motors involving claims of alleged defects in the design and manufacture of seat belts, seat backs, and air bags.

“The work involved in preparing a case for trial is enormous, especially when you have to depose a number of expert witnesses and conduct research on all the scientific and engineering issues surrounding the claims,” Colter said. “It’s a huge undertaking, but it’s one that I really enjoy. I always learn a lot about the products, and all the thought and testing that went into their manufacture.”

Colter, who has two sisters, became a partner at the firm in 2003 and said that she “loves trial work and being in court,” especially when the stakes are high and the cases are complex.

“There is something particularly satisfying about connecting with a jury on claims that are highly technical,” Colter said. “I enjoy the opportunity to explain scientific matters in terms that the laymen can understand. I try to put myself in the shoes of a juror in cases like that, knowing full well that they need to understand the scope of the matter before they can render an intelligent verdict. I want to give them as much information as they need in a simplified and straightforward fashion. If I’ve done that, then I feel confident about our chances.”

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