The California judicial system is adversarial; there are winners, and there are losers. Of course, most parties would rather negotiate a compromise rather than go to trial. If the case does go to trial, however, one of the parties is bound to be dissatisfied with the result. The appeals process is a way of providing an outlet for this dissatisfaction.
More specifically, an appeal is a request to a higher court by a party who is dissatisfied with the decision of a lower court. The request asks the higher court to overrule the decision of the lower court by either (i) reversing it or (ii) sending it back to the lower court with additional instructions. The Appellate Rules of the California Rules of Court govern appeals in California.
How an Appeal Differs From a Trial
An appeal is not a new trial, thought it may lead to one if it is successful. Following is a list of some of the actions you can take at a trial but not in an appeal:
- Call or question witnesses;
- Submit new evidence;
- Place a new issue into dispute; and
- Empanel a jury.
Although appeals court judges sometimes invite the parties to present oral arguments, that’s not always the case.
Usually, you cannot dispute a matter on appeal unless you objected to the decision at the trial level as well.
Judges normally decide appeals by reviewing documents and determining whether the trial court committed any legal errors.
Typical Grounds for Appeal
Following is a list of only a few of the many possible grounds for appeal:
- The lower court improperly excluded evidence or improperly allowed the opposing party to submit inappropriate evidence.
- The lower court barred testimony from a qualified expert witness or allowed testimony from an unqualified expert witness.
- No reasonable jury could possibly have issued the decision you are appealing.
- The trial court judge improperly granted a motion for summary judgment to the other side.
- The judge gave improper instructions to the jury.
- The trial process was compromised by some form of corruption, such as jury tampering.
You need proper legal grounds to submit an appeal. Even if the court agrees to hear your appeal, it will not rule in your favor unless you have a strong claim that you present in a persuasive fashion.
The Appeals Process
In California, the personal injury appeals process works something like this:
- You typically have 60 days from the issuance of a judgment to file a notice of appeal to the appeals court. If you fail to meet the deadline, your claim is essentially dead.
- Tell the trial court what records they should send to the appeals court. The opposing party will issue its own request.
- Prepare a persuasive written brief outlining your point of view, and submit it to the appeals court.
- Engage in oral argument against the opposing party if the appeals court allows you to do so.
- Get the appellate court’s decision.
If you don’t like the appeals court’s ruling, you could try appealing to the California Supreme Court. If you can find a federal issue, theoretically, you could appeal all the way up to the US Supreme Court. The higher up the appeals court ladder you go, however, the harder it is to win. The highest courts only hear a small fraction of the cases that litigants submit to them.
The Standard of Review
The “standard of review” is the standard by which a judge at a higher court reviews the lower court decision you are appealing. If the standard of review is high, it will be difficult for you to win. If the standard of review is low, it will be easier to win.
- The standard of review that higher court judges most often apply to personal injury cases is called “abuse of discretion.” It is a high standard of review. The appeals court will not overturn the trial court’s ruling even if they disagree with it unless the decision constitutes an “abuse of discretion.”
- The “substantial evidence” standard applies when you allege that the trial court’s decision was not based on substantial evidence. If you are right, you will probably win your appeal.
- When an appeals court uses the “de novo” standard, they consider the issue as if they were the trial court. In other words, they grant no deference at all to the trial court’s decision. Courts seldom use the de novo standard.
Your lawyer can help you better understand the nature and uses of these three standards of review.
You Almost Certainly Need an Experienced Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer To Handle Your Appeal
Judges don’t like to overturn the decisions of other judges. That is why it’s difficult to win an appeal. It can happen, though, with a good lawyer and strong grounds for appeal.
Speak to a Los Angeles personal injury lawyer at a free initial consultation to find out whether your appeal is worth pursuing.