There is no question that a good trial lawyer has a well-rounded background that enables them to identify with witnesses and jurors. Brian Jasper’s background in nursing prior to attending law school gives him specialized knowledge in working medical malpractice and nursing home cases. Brian talks to us about what the rest of us need to know when it comes to examination of nursing staff.
Tad Thomas: Brian, tell me a little bit about your practice.
Brian Jasper: Thank you for having me. 95% of my personal injury practice is related to nursing home abuse, neglect, and medical malpractice litigation. I’ve been doing this work for about nine years and nursing home work has been by far the biggest part of my legal practice since I started in 2011.
Tad Thomas: I know you were in nursing prior to practicing law. First of all, tell me what you did in nursing and in the healthcare community.
Brian Jasper: I went to nursing school back in 1992 on a program through the United States Army Reserves. I joined the Army Reserves and went to basic training. When I came home, the Army put me through a civilian nursing school here in Louisville, Kentucky, called the Galen Health Institute. I went to school for a solid year. Then I did some on-the-job training with the Army at Fort Knox. After that I worked both as a civilian nurse and an Army nurse for my weekend drills and summer camps.
I started off in long-term care, like a lot of LPNs do. I worked in long-term care facilities in the Louisville metropolitan area and then in middle of my career, I went to work for hospice. Hospice of Louisville, at the time, opened an inpatient unit in Louisville. It was the first of its kind in the state of Kentucky and I was part of that team that opened that unit. I worked for six years in inpatient hospice care, primarily providing care for terminally ill patients, implementing palliative care plans, doing things to help patients and their families navigate the dying process. But the last two or three years of my career I was back working in long-term care in the Louisville area.
Tad Thomas: What made you go to law school?
Brian Jasper: Well, truthfully, as we know from our practice, nursing is a very difficult job. It’s very physically demanding. As an LPN I was in the trenches. I was taking care of patients at the bedside, lifting, transferring, turning, and repositioning. I reached a point in my career when it was time to progress, to either become a registered nurse or a nurse practitioner or go into to some form of management. But, I felt like I needed a change. Nights, weekends, holidays working two jobs as a nurse for much of my career to make ends meet, I felt like it was time for a change, and I decided I wanted to go to law school.
Tad Thomas: How have you used your nursing experience in your practice?
Brian Jasper: The interesting thing about the way that long-term care is delivered in the United States is that it hasn’t changed much in the last 26 or 27 years since I graduated from nursing school. I read nursing home charts from six months ago, and they still use a lot of the same forms that I used back when I first hit the floor as a brand new nurse.
I say this jokingly, technology has boomed in the last 25 years, but they haven’t invented a robot to turn and reposition patients, that can deliver care in a kind and compassionate way.
So, in my practice, when I sit down and look at a chart, I can imagine exactly what the nurse was doing and thinking when it came to certain medications or procedures. It gives me insight because for instance, if a medical procedure such as cleaning a tracheostomy was done, I’ve done that hundreds, if not thousands of times in my career, and I know how it’s supposed to be done. I can imagine seeing that happen for my patients. And there’s a certain language around medicine, anybody that’s ever practiced nursing or medicine in any capacity, they have their own language and syntax, a specific way they chart things. I understand that language so it has helped me and made me, I feel, like a more efficient lawyer and also a more empathetic lawyer because I can put myself in that situation.
Tad Thomas: You recently taught a seminar on deposing nursing staff. Having been a nurse, what kind of advice would you give lawyers who are doing directs and crosses of nursing staff?
Brian Jasper: One of the things that I know for sure is, and the advice that I would give, is understanding that most of the nursing staff that we depose are absolutely terrified.
There’s a lot of misinformation put out by the industry that I was subject to and that I’ve seen in my law practice. The nurses are scared of us. They don’t recognize that we really are champions for justice. We are advocates for patients just like they are.
The advice that I would give is, preparation is everything and understanding that you’re going to get more out of those nurses when you present your questions and present yourself with respect and understanding of who they are and what they do. There’s no need to go at them in a tough way. Nine times out of 10, you can get the information you need and you can get the admissions you need if your questions are well-crafted and you’re prepared. And you do so in a reasonably nice way.
Tad Thomas: Outside of that, what advice would you give to young lawyers? Maybe not just in the nursing home or medical context, but just as far as practicing law?
Brian Jasper: Lawyers are by and large, in my experience, really good about mentoring young lawyers. I think that if you’re a young lawyer and you have a specific area that you want to practice in, finding a good mentor, somebody that’s done that work for 10 or 20 years, that’s key. I was blessed. I finished law school at age 38, but I had some really good lawyers willing to teach me the ways of a nursing home lawyer. They were even younger than me, but had been doing it a lot longer, who were good to me and mentored me and treated me really well and showed me how to keep my head above water in a very, very intense profession.
Tad Thomas: We talk about how we try to change the community using the justice system, but what about outside of working within the court system? What can we do as lawyers to help change the outcome for the people we represent?
Brian Jasper: That’s a good question. I had the privilege of attending my first AAJ conference last summer. It was a great experience. I met a ton of great people. The speakers were top notch. Some of the best lawyers in the world were there. And one of the speakers challenged us. His direct question was, “What are you as lawyers doing in your communities to prevent the tragedies that you’re litigating?”
As I sat there that question hit me like a ton of bricks. I thought about it long and hard and decided that I was going to do something to help families who are facing the prospect of putting a loved one, whether it be a parent or grandparent or spouse, into a long-term care facility or rehab facility.
I developed a program called My Loved One Needs Long-term Care, Now What? It’s my hope that whenever the COVID-19 quarantine is over, I’ll get the opportunity to present this program to churches, VFW posts, and any community organization that has members facing the prospect of having to put a loved one in a long-term care facility. It’s now my goal not only to seek justice for the victims of neglect but also to do what I can to improve care and prevent the tragedies we litigate.
We want to thank Brian for taking the time to speak with Lawyer Minds. For more information on him or to get in touch, you can do so here.