Clients often and erroneously view appeals as new trials. Despite this confusion, however, it is possible to ask for a new trial if the circumstances justify it. The differences between the two should be explained up front so the client understands what to expect. Working with counsel, the client can make an informed choice of how to proceed with the litigation.
Gusdorff Law explains what clients need to know about appeals versus new trials.
The Basics of an Appeal
Appealing a case means asking a court of higher authority to review how it was conducted. The key concept here is legal error. Appellate judges are less concerned with the underlying facts of the case, and more concerned with mistakes of law. Improperly admitted evidence, for example, could be grounds for appeal.
And those grounds are few, by design. Being disappointed with the outcome of a trial or upset with the judge are insufficient grounds. Not only must there be legal error, it must have actually affected the outcome of the trial. A client who insists on using the appeals process as a way to gain a new trial should be warned not to. Clients can be sanctioned for filing frivolous appeals.
When You Can Ask for a New Trial
A new trial really is a do-over, a chance to try the entire case over again. However, not just anyone can request a new trial for any reason. The initial verdict has to be vacated, which is relatively difficult to do.
California sets forth only a few grounds on which to set aside a verdict and grant a new trial. Those reasons are:
1. Irregularity in the proceedings of the court, jury or adverse party. This includes irregularities in any court order or abuse of discretion. It must be shown that the irregularity prevented the party from having a fair trial.
2. Misconduct on the part of a jury member. This may include receiving evidence outside of the trial, which could improperly influence the juror’s decision-making.
3. Accident or surprise. However, this must be something that ordinary prudence could not have anticipated and prevented.
4. Newly discovered evidence. The evidence must be material for the party making the application. It must also be something which could not, with reasonable diligence, have been discovered and produced at the original trial.
5. Excessive or inadequate damages. The evidence and record must be such that the court or jury “clearly” should have awarded a different amount.
6. Insufficiency of the evidence to justify the verdict or other decision. A related ground is that the verdict or other decision is against established law. As with excessive or inadequate damages, a different decision must be clearly warranted.
7. Error in law. This means a serious mistake in applying the law to the facts of the case.
Advising and Representing Clients Through California Appeals
In some situations, a client may be able to choose either an appeal or a new trial, depending upon statutory deadlines. That decision will be informed by the experience and judgment of trial and appellate counsel.
Gusdorff Law is prepared to advise the trial team and client on how best to proceed. We can assist with weighing the options and understanding the risks, regardless of which path is chosen. Call us today to get started.