Monthly Archives: December 2010

Empathy is Down Among College Students – How That Affects Your Jury

A new study discussed in Scientific American finds that empathy among college students has declined precipitously in the last 30 years, with steeper declines in the last 10 years. The study seems to link this to increasing social isolation – people spend less time around other people and connect more online, through facebook, etc. (This social isolation was a growing concern even before the meteoric rise of social media – take a look at Putnam’s Bowling Alone, a 2000 book based on a 1995 essay – still good reading).

A few things aren’t clear from the stub I linked – namely whether empathy grows as people get older and whether the social isolation hypothesis is causally connected or merely correlated. I know that I’ve always been an empathetic person, even as a college student. That’s probably what led me to this line of work. As I’ve gotten older, I find myself increasingly empathetic – caring more about people who I would have dismissed in my youth, understanding that we don’t necessarily know what makes someone act a certain way (a point discussed well by the late David Foster Wallace). This was summed up well in a fantastic unrelated essay by Cord Jefferson in the Awl about his decision to give his alcoholic father a kidney – “It’s not until you grow up and start making real decisions that you begin to comprehend the complexity of the web that connects a person’s heart and mind to their hands.” So maybe these college students will be more empathetic when they are 30. Or 40.

To bring this discussion back on track and away from the meanderings of my mind, consider whether you want to put young people on your jury. Several lawyers have told me that I’m an idiot if I put anyone under 25 on my juries. They might be right, they might not. I’ve said several times that you can’t assume an individual’s beliefs or values based on the characteristics of that individual’s generation.

Yet in jury selection, we have very little time to extrapolate an entire belief system from dozens of people, based on precious little information. Maybe you don’t want younger people. All I know is that when you thumb through your mental rolodex of heuristics to pick a jury, consider that younger people might not be very empathetic.

(Howard Zimmerle is a trial lawyer living in Moline, Illinois. He’s still under 30, but was never part of the quoted survey. So who knows. You can reach him at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at]


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Filed under Juries, Trial Practice

New Illinois Criminal Case Allows Judicial Notice of Google Maps at Trial

I guess the headline of this post says it all. Just remember that People v. Clark is a criminal case, and is a Second District case, not Illinois Supreme Court. Still, this is a good weapon to have in your trial lawyer’s arsenal.

(Howard Zimmerle practices plaintiff’s personal injury law in Rock Island Illinois and Davenport Iowa, as well as the surrounding areas. You can contact him at hzimmerle [at], or 309-794-1660).

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Filed under Illinois Case Law, Illinois law, Trial Practice

Helpful Links for Iowa/Illinois Trial Lawyers

Bookmark this page.

Do it now. I’ll wait.

Thanks. There are several websites that I consult on a regular basis, and unfortunately, no one seems to have them all in one place. Here are some of my most-used websites. Some more may be added in the future, so check back. Also, any suggestions would be welcomed!

Background Checks/Case Status Checks

Why? So you can check to see if cases have been filed, check the status of traffic tickets and other criminal matters, and other fun stuff that can be accessed through a court records search.


Illinois (many counties):

Rock Island County:

Corporation Searches

Why? So you can sue the right entities!



State Patrol Crash Reports

Why? So you can find out what happened – as long as Iowa State Patrol is involved. Iowa Crash reports only stay available online for 15 days.



Why? So you can find out if a defendant owns any real estate, and find the correct owner of a piece of property. This can be really helpful for premises liability cases. In many counties in Iowa, you can search by name.


Rock Island County Illinois:

Liquor License Search

Why? So you can sue the right entity in a dram shop case, among other benefits.



Physician Finder

Why? So when your client can only remember some vague information about what doctors they went to, you can hopefully track down the right one. Limited to the Quad Cities only, just for ease of linkage.



View/Map the Scene of a Crash

Why? We all have to know the lay of the land – literally. You can get a satellite photo of an intersection, along with birds-eye views of certain areas from different angles. Years ago some attorneys would hire helicopters to fly above an intersection so they could take photos to show the jury. Those days are gone, my friends. Oh, and Google? Not nearly as good as Bing when it comes to maps.

Vehicle Appraisal

Why? So you can estimate what your client’s wrecked car is worth. Negotiate wisely.

Kelly Blue Book:

NADA guides:

Anything I’ve missed?

(Howard Zimmerle is a trial lawyer practicing in Iowa and Illinois. He can be reached at 309-794-1660 or at hzimmerle [at]

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Filed under Great Websites, Links, Trial Practice

Discovery Depositions of Parties May Now Be Used at Trial in Limited Circumstances

This is good news! Illinois Rule 212 has been changed to allow use of a party’s discovery deposition as evidence at trial if the party is “unable to attend due to death or infirmity” and the court finds it will do substantial justice.

I had a situation just like this come up this year. An insurance company had filed a dec action against my client, its insureds and others. I was defending on behalf of my client. We were ready for trial, and one of the insureds was diagnosed with cancer. The insurance company wouldn’t dismiss her as a party and wouldn’t agree to use her discovery deposition in lieu of testimony at trial. The old Rule 212 prevented me from being able to force them to do that. We ended up delaying the trial for a few months until she was healthy enough to give an evidence deposition – and I question whether she was even healthy enough to do that.

We won the trial, but several months of delay and the unfortunate situation of having to take an evidence deposition of a cancer patient in between chemotherapy treatments could have been avoided if this rule change had been adopted earlier.

(Howard Zimmerle is a lawyer in the Quad City area. He can be reached at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at]


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Filed under Illinois law, Legal News, Trial Practice

Scott County Courtrooms to Receive Much-Needed Renovation!!

According to the Quad City Times, the courtrooms in the Scott County Courthouse will be renovated soon, including new carpet, asbestos removal (how much asbestos is still out there?) and technological updates.

I’m very glad to hear that. Some of the small courtrooms are just plain awful. The bigger courtrooms need to be brought into the 21st century. Modern trials are multimedia affairs – typically lawyers use laptops, projectors, DVDs, document cameras and many other things they didn’t use 20 years ago. It’s a pain to use a courtroom that isn’t set up for a projector, or doesn’t have enough power outlets so you have to string an extension cord in the jury’s way.

Rock Island has big flat screen TVs and DVD players in every courtroom. Scott County is stepping it up now, too.

(Howard Zimmerle is a trial lawyer practicing in Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois. He can be reached at 309-794-1660 or hzimmerle [at]

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Iowa Jury Verdicts Now Partially Available for Free (But are of Limited Value)

What’s my case worth?

Any good lawyer knows that the answer to that question requires a lot of knowledge – knowledge not just about the facts of the case at hand but about which facts may drive the value of the case and why.

One valuable piece of the puzzle is to see what juries have done in the past with similar cases. Even that has its limitations. Obviously not all juries are the same. Different states, different counties, different judges, attorneys, juries, etc would lead to different results in most cases. The key when looking at jury verdicts is to look at trends and patterns.

The Iowa Bar Association now has a free searchable database of Iowa jury verdicts. It’s incomplete (missing some cases), and it doesn’t give you much information about the facts of most cases, but it’s something. Any weapons in your arsenal that can help you value cases (and convince insurance adjusters, attorneys or even your own clients) that the value you put in your demand is correct sure can’t hurt.

(Howard Zimmerle is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer practicing in Iowa and Illinois. You can reach him at (309) 794-1660 or hzimmerle [at]

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Filed under Iowa Case Law, Negotiations, Settlements, Trial Practice, Uncategorized