Can You Appeal Your Personal Injury Judgment?

by Ron Bell | Mar 5, 2019 |

Can You Appeal Your Personal Injury Judgment?
Even with the best lawyer on your side, not every personal injury case goes as planned. Read our blog to learn when and how you can appeal an unfavorable personal injury judgment.

This was not the outcome the plaintiff anticipated. Her attorney had assured her that her case was ironclad, the evidence in her favor inconvertible, and the at-fault party’s line of defense laughably weak. If anything, the plaintiff had expected that after a swift and relatively predictable trial, the jury would award her the full amount of damages requested in the suit. So when the head juror announced the final ruling, the plaintiff looked at her attorney in utter disbelief. As difficult as it was to accept it, however, the verdict left no room for doubt or second-guessing – the defendant was exonerated of all liability and the plaintiff lost the lawsuit.

If you have a valid personal injury claim and you’re willing to take it all the way to the courtroom, the theoretical scenario described above is one of the outcomes you must be prepared for. Regardless of how great your chances of winning your case may seem, as any attorney with some litigation experience can testify, trials can be highly unpredictable. After all, the ultimate outcome of a lawsuit – that is, the decisions regarding liability and compensation payout – lies with the jury and their opinions can, at times, be swayed by unobjective factors.

Losing at trial, however, doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of your personal injury case. You may still seek to overturn the unfavorable ruling by asking a higher court to review your case again. The process in which one party requests a formal change to a previous court decision is called an appeal. In this article, we will analyze the following three issues related to appeals in personal injury process: how appeals differ from initial trails, in which circumstances a party may appeal a judgment, and what possible outcomes an appeal can produce.

When Can You Appeal a Lower Court Verdict?

A person who doesn’t agree with the initial verdict of a lower court can only appeal the ruling if valid grounds for such an appeal exist. This means that a party isn’t always able to file an appeal even if they feel that the verdict is unjust. Possible grounds for an appeal of a personal injury case include:

  • Unreasonable verdict – the party filing the appeal claims that the ruling was based on weak or insufficient evidence
  • Error of law – such errors that may have happened during the initial trial may include wrongful admission of evidence or misdirection to the jury
  • Miscarriage of justice – meaning that, due to procedural, legal, and factual errors, the sentence presented was completely unlawful and unjust

How an Appeal Differs From the Initial Trial

The main difference between an appeal and the initial trial in a personal injury case is the subject of the legal proceedings. During the initial trial, the jury is presented with evidence, opinions of experts, and testimonies of witnesses. The jury is then asked to decide the liability of the parties involved, ordering the party found to be at-fault to pay damages to the injured party.

An appeal, however, is not simply a retrial of the same case. Rather, the job of the appellate court is to review how the lower court applied the principles of the law during the initial trial. So rather than focusing on any new or already existing evidence and witness testimonies, the appellate court will examine the initial case for any legal, factual or procedural errors. This time, no jury will be present but rather the case will be heard by a panel comprised of multiple judges who will then announce the verdict.

The appeals proceedings are also markedly different from how the initial trial works. Here, the greatest weight is given to briefs prepared by the attorneys of both parties. A brief is a written document in which an attorney presents his or her arguments. The attorney for the party who filed the appeal will try to demonstrate which errors were committed during the initial trial. The attorney for the party favored by the initial ruling will try to prove that the sentence was correct. The judges in an appellate case review the briefs before the hearing. During the hearing, the attorneys for both parties give oral arguments and answer questions from the judges.

Possible Outcomes of an Appeal

The outcome of an appeals case will depend on the reason for the appeal and what you and your attorney are aiming to achieve. However, in general terms, the appellate court can either uphold the ruling of the lower court or remand the case, that is, send it back to the lower court for reversal or modification. Remanding the case can include:

  • Case dismissal
  • New decision regarding a motion presented at the initial trial
  • Holding a new sentence hearing
  • Change of the amount awarded as damages
  • New trial

Even if your appeals case goes awry and the appeals court doesn’t pronounce a favorable verdict, you can further appeal your case with higher courts. First, you can file an appeal with the New Mexico Court of Appeals. In rare cases – usually, where a federal or constitutional issue is involved – you may also be able to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, it is important to bear in mind that, in contrast to a state appeals court, neither the New Mexico Court of Appeals nor the U.S. Supreme Court is legally obliged to review your case. Whether such review will be granted or not lies at the sole discretion of the judges.

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