What Does "Appeal" Mean?

In an appeal of a personal injury case, you ask a higher court to reconsider a lower court’s decision that you are dissatisfied with. In response, the higher court can dismiss your appeal, affirm the lower court’s judgment, overturn the lower court’s judgment, or remand (send) the case back to the trial court with instructions to reconsider the verdict based on instructions issued by the appeals court. 

Civil appeals (in personal injury cases, for example) differ from criminal appeals. In a personal injury case, with proper grounds, you can appeal an adverse trial judgment to the Court of Appeals. If you are still not satisfied, you can try to appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois. The Supreme Court may or may not agree to hear your appeal.

Grounds for Appeal

To appeal, you need at least one valid ground for appeal. Following are some of the most popular grounds for appeal of personal injury verdicts:

  • The court committed a legal error that affected the outcome of the case. 
  • Improper admission or exclusion of evidence.
  • Jury misconduct (such as bribery).
  • Insufficient evidence to support the verdict.
  • Errors in jury instructions.
  • Excessive or inadequate damages. This ground might justify adjusting damages but not overturning the verdict.
  • Abuse of discretion, when the trial court makes a decision that is arbitrary or unreasonable.
  • Procedural irregularities–biased jury selection, for example.
  • Conflict with existing law or precedent.

Many other grounds for appeal are possible.

Different Rules on Appeal

Some of the rules of litigation differ on appeal. See below for two examples.

New Evidence 

The appeals court will not consider new evidence. If it remands the case back to the trial court, however, the trial court can order a new trial where both sides can present new evidence.

The Burden of Proof

At trial, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff (the party that filed the complaint).On appeal, however, the burden of proof is on the party that filed the appeal. This party can be either the plaintiff or the defendant

Imagine, for example, that the plaintiff wins a personal injury verdict. Now it is the defendant who is unhappy, the defendant who will probably file any appeal, and, therefore, the defendant who will bear the burden of proof.

The Appeals Court’s Deference to the Lower Court

The appeals court takes the view that the trial court is in a better position to determine the facts of the case, since the trial court judge and jury could personally observe witness testimony and other aspects of the case. 

Accordingly, when it comes to matters of fact (whether the defendant ran a red light, for example), the appeals court will normally defer to the trial court even when it disagrees with the trial court. Only rarely will it overturn the trial court’s decision on matters of fact.

Matters of law are different, however. Suppose, for instance, that the trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint for failure to comply with the statute of limitations deadline when it should have allowed the complaint based on the discovery rule. In cases of error of law, the trial court is much more willing to overturn the trial court’s decision. 

The difficulty in convincing an appeals court to overturn a trial court’s findings of fact makes it difficult for parties to win an appeal.

What Can You Appeal?

You can appeal the following types of decisions by the trial court:

  • A final judgment. 
  • A partial judgment. 
  • Some interlocutory judgments. An interlocutory judgment is a decision made in the middle of a trial, such as a refusal to admit a certain item of evidence.  

Talk to a lawyer about what you can appeal, because the rules can be deceptively complex.

Illinois Personal Injury Appeal Procedure

Take the following steps to complete your appeal:

  1. File a Notice of Appeal with the trial court within 30 days of whatever judgment or order you are appealing.
  2. Demand the preparation of the trial court record, including transcripts and documentation.
  3. Draft and file your appellate brief. This is a persuasive document that outlines your arguments and grounds for appeal.
  4. The opposing party must file a response brief.
  5. Oral Arguments: Sometimes, the appeals court allows oral arguments. 
  6. The decision: The appellate court reviews the case and issues a decision.

The process can typically be completed in a year or less.

Yes, You Need a Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer for an Appeal

Appeals are difficult to win. Even with a lawyer, the odds are against you unless you have a very, very strong claim. Without the help of a lawyer, your chances of a successful appeal are almost zero. 

Indeed, without an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at trial, the odds are that you will not successfully preserve any grounds for appeal that you might otherwise possess.