You were sued, took the case to trial, and lost. However, you totally disagree with the ruling and think that it was unfair. Do you have any legal grounds to file an appeal? Maybe. Here's what you should know about taking a case to the appellate court.

How is the process in the appellate court different from trial court?

During a civil trial, both sides usually present evidence, call witnesses, and hear arguments designed to persuade the judge or jury deciding the case about who is right and who is wrong. In appellate court, the case isn't reheard or tried over again. Instead, the lawyers for the side bringing the appeal argue matters of legal policy and rules of procedure before the judge or judges of the court. Appellate courts never involve juries and will only overturn a lower court's decision if they feel that the law was in error in some way.

What are most common reasons for an appeal?

When you appeal the outcome of a lawsuit, there are several different types of judicial error that could be called into play:

  • Plain Error -- A plain error is something that is obviously and clearly wrong but wasn't pointed out or objected to at the time of the trial. The error has to be one that actually influenced the case somehow. For example, if a judge issued the wrong instructions to the jury and allowed them to consider evidence which hadn't been properly introduced into the record, that could have led to an unfair verdict.
  • Sufficiency Of Evidence -- This type of appeal asks the court to review the evidence presented and determine whether or not it is enough for the average person to support the decision. For example, the person who sued you claimed to suffer terrible injuries and emotional distress, but only offered a couple pages of medical records as evidence and never sought treatment for the psychological portion of his or her claim. The question isn't whether or not the evidence is trustworthy, only whether or not there is enough of it to be convincing.
  • Weight Of The Evidence -- This appeal argues that the verdict is the exact opposite of what the evidence shows or that the evidence is clearly of little value. The court is asked to look at the believability of the evidence that was used to win the case. For example, if an "expert" witness is found to have misrepresented his or her training and skills, the evidence supplied by that witness would be called into question.
  • Abuse Of Discretion -- If the judge in the original trial overstepped his or her role and authority under the law, an abuse of discretion could be called. For example, if the judge makes several snide remarks in front of the jury that indicate that he or she thinks that you are lying, that would be a serious abuse of discretion.

If you feel like the verdict in your case wasn't fair and you believe that one of the above reasons is a factor, talk to an attorney like Swartz & Swartz P.C. about the possibility of an appeal.