In an appeal, a higher court reconsiders the decision of a lower court. If you are seeking an appeal in a personal injury case, you are obviously dissatisfied with the trial court’s decision. You might have fallen victim to insurance company litigation tactics, for example. Alternatively, the court might have unfairly denied your claim based on contributory fault. Whatever the reason, there are ways to maximize your chances of winning on appeal.
The Difference Between a Trial and an Appeal
Appeals are governed by the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure. In a typical appeal:
- There is no jury;
- You cannot call witnesses;
- You cannot introduce new evidence; and
- You cannot raise any objections that you did not raise at trial.
Courts of appeal sometimes allow you to break some of the foregoing rules if an exception applies – but don’t count on it. In a typical appeal, the court relies entirely on the transcript of the trial court proceeding and on briefs submitted by the parties. In some cases, they might invite the parties to come to court and defend their respective positions in oral arguments.
Factual Issues vs. Legal Issues
Your trial and appeal might invoke many issues. Courts like to classify issues as either factual issues or legal issues, and sometimes it’s not easy to tell the difference. An example of a factual issue is whether witness John Doe testified falsely. An example of a legal issue, by contrast, is whether the weight of the evidence favored the defendant under the “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
Appeals courts grant a greater degree of judicial deference to trial courts when they decide on factual issues than when they decide on legal issues. A trial court, for example, is in a better position to personally observe the demeanor of a witness to determine whether they were lying than an appeals court is by simply reading the trial transcript.
Judicial Deference and The Standard of Review
As alluded to above, appeals courts typically grant a certain amount of deference to the lower court. If the appeals court grants deference to the trial court, it will set a high bar to overturning the trial court’s decision.
The judge might consider, for example, “Although I disagree with the trial court’s reasoning on this issue, it is not so obviously mistaken that the court would have to have been completely unreasonable to rule as it did. Therefore I will uphold the ruling even though I disagree with it.”
The Standard of Review
The standard of review tells the appeals court exactly how much discretion to grant the trial court’s decision when deciding on your appeal. The three most common standards are:
- De novo;
- Clearly erroneous;
- Abuse of discretion;
If the issues on appeal are purely legal issues, for example, the court will use the de novo standard of review. This is the easiest standard for you to win under because the appeals court ignores the trial court’s ruling and decides your appeal on its own.
At the other extreme is the “abuse of discretion” standard, which applies when the trial court’s decision is outrageous. If the appeals court adopts the abuse of discretion standard, it will be difficult for you to win.
Possible Grounds for Appeal
There are many, many possible grounds for appeal, including:
- Jury tampering;
- The court disallowed evidence that it should have allowed;
- The jury’s decision was manifestly unreasonable;
- The court allowed the defendant to introduce evidence that violated the Florida Rules of Evidence;
- The court misapplied the applicable law; or
- The court improperly dismissed your case.
There are hundreds of possible grounds for appeal, depending on your circumstances.
Why a Court Might Deny Your Appeal
An appeals court might deny your appeal for any of the following reasons:
- You missed the deadline to appeal. Typically, this deadline is 30 days after the final order.
- Your grounds for appeal are invalid or unpersuasive.
- You reached a settlement before the court decided on your appeal.
- You based your appeal on complaints that you did not raise at trial.
These grounds for rejection of an appeal are just the tip of the iceberg. Courts deny appeals far more often than they accept them.
Can You Appeal Again?
Theoretically, you can appeal again, all the way up to the Supreme Court of Florida. If you have a federal issue, you can theoretically appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States. However, every time you appeal, it gets harder and harder to convince the court to hear your case.
If You Win, What Happens Next?
If you win, the court will either issue a new ruling (for instance, by ordering the defendant to pay you compensation) or by sending your case back to the trial court with instructions to try the case again.
You Definitely Need a Lawyer for an Appeal
It is possible to handle some types of personal injury cases without a lawyer. An appeal is not one of them. Appeals can be difficult to win because appeals courts don’t like to second-guess the decisions of trial courts. You can still win an appeal, however, with a good lawyer and strong grounds for appeal.