Med mal attorney makes good use of nursing degree

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

At an early age, some people look toward the future with an eye on a career in the medical field. Others aspire to careers in law.

But Lynn Foley had no such ambitions while growing up. But, through circumstance, family events and brotherly influence, she ended up in both. Foley, of Brighton, proudly displays two degrees on her office wall--one in nursing and the other in law.

And she's parlayed those two distinct professions into a successful career as a plaintiff's attorney in medical malpractice cases as co-founder and partner at the Livonia law firm of Cochran, Foley & Associates.

Foley was born in Detroit in 1957 and graduated from high school in 1976. She then entered the University of Michigan School of Nursing. At first, the book learning portion of it was great. But as she became more involved in the clinical part of nursing around her third year, she started thinking maybe nursing wasn't for her.

"Nursing was never my first passion, and as I was completing nursing school, I started to look for other options," she said.

Foley got a job at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, working as a medical-surgical nurse, handling neurology and urology patients, but decided to enter Wayne State University School of Law in the fall of 1980.

After graduating in 1983, Foley landed a job at the Southfield firm of Meklir, Schreier, Nolish & Friedman, and found a mentor in Sherwin Schreier. Foley saw other law school graduates having a difficult time finding jobs after law school.

"But with a nursing background, it made me stand out from the pack," she said.

Schreier taught her a lot about medical malpractice cases, his specialty, and took to Foley because of her familiarity with medical issues, cases, lingo, procedures and practices.

"It was a perfect fit," said Foley, who is married to John Ayaub, a tax attorney, and the mother of three.

Foley worked there for 10 years, getting referrals for some cases from her old law school friend, Terry Cochran. In 1994, the two decided to open their own firm.

For the past 19 years, Foley, a senior partner, heads the medical malpractice department there. She also handles product liability claims against the manufacturers of faulty medical devices. The firm also has a satellite office in Flint, and handles a wide variety of personal injury cases.

Foley won more than $16 million in a birth trauma cases several years ago in Wayne County Circuit Court, and negotiated confidential multi-million dollar settlements in cases involving babies born with Spinal Bifida and Downs Syndrome, and for a man who suffered brain damage when bleeding in his abdomen was not properly diagnosed and treated.

"There are just a lot more hoops you have to jump through," Foley said of medical malpractice cases in Michigan. "The point is that a lot of restrictions were put on med mal cases that made it economically unfeasible to pursue a lot of cases that we used to be able to pursue."

For instance, caps in some cases are currently set at $433,400, no matter how horrific the injury suffered by a plaintiff. In many cases, clients have been told that expenses in the case could equal more than any amount that could be won.

"Michigan is one of the toughest states in terms of the laws we have in place to regulate what kinds of cases can be filed," Foley said. "And that's a bad thing, because there are a lot of people out there who have suffered injuries, but there's no way for them to get compensation because of the court system and the law and the legislators."

"This business can be tough, stressful and contentious, but I enjoy it," Foley said.

"When you accomplish the goal of helping someone, it's a very gratifying feeling, and that's what keeps me going."

Published: Mon, Jun 17, 2013

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