Appeals are rare events after American mesothelioma lawsuit cases. Because so few mesothelioma lawsuits ever go to trial, there are limited cases that end with verdicts having grounds for appeal. Less than 5% of United States mesothelioma cases are put to a trial. Those going to trial usually result in mid-session settlements being reached before a judge or jury is asked for a verdict.
What is a Verdict Appeal?
It’s not accurately known how many mesothelioma lawsuit verdicts have been appealed. It’s also mostly unknown what the average results were for appellants. There are many different court jurisdictions across the nation. Courts independently operate at the state and federal level. Each court area has slightly different rules of procedure, including how civil lawsuit trial verdicts are appealed.
America’s appeal system is made of county, state and federal court tiers operating all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. That’s the last stop in American justice, but it’s a rare occasion they’d hear a mesothelioma case appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court has a limited mandate. They’re reserved for cases with constitutional issues or matters of the highest national interest. Mesothelioma lawsuit verdict appeals almost always stop at the superior state or federal circuit court levels. Generally, appeals are heard by a court ranking one level higher than the trial court.
Difference in Trial Courts and Appeal Courts
Simply put, appeal courts don’t conduct trials, and trial courts don’t hear appeals. Appellate and trial courts operate independently, and each serves a distinct purpose in the American justice system. Trial courts are divided between those handling criminal cases and those hearing civil cases like mesothelioma lawsuits. While civil and criminal courts are two separate entities, appeal courts hear both civil and criminal matters.
The biggest difference between trial and appeal courts is evidence procedure. Civil trial courts are fact-finding processes where they receive evidence supporting the case through witnesses, exhibits, documents, and records. A trial court is composed of a judge and jury hearing evidence. The parties can also elect for a bench trial without a jury where a lone judge decides the case.
Trial courts have two duties. One is deciding on facts in the matter. That’s a jury’s job, and they’re assisted by a judge who guides the process according to established procedures. The second duty goes to the trial judge. It’s their role to ensure evidence supporting case facts is legally admitted and that due process unfolds according to set statutes.
A basic appeal principle holds that plaintiffs or defendants can’t appeal a civil trial decision made upon fact. That leaves the jury’s decision free of appeal resulting from an alleged error in fact-finding. It’s not so with a perceived legal error on the judge’s part. With few exceptions, appeals from a trial verdict cite mistakes made in how evidence was admitted, wrongful instructions given by the judge to the jury or what’s called abuse of discretion by a judge during a bench trial.
Appeal Court Structure
Another main difference between trial and appeal courts is the structure and number of judges involved. All civil trials involve on judge overseeing up to twelve jurors. Appeal courts have judge panels. Lower appellate courts normally have three judges who hear the appellant’s reasons for redress and confer on whether the judgment contained errors. State superior or supreme courts usually involve five judges known as justices. The United States Supreme Court is made of nine justices. One is the Chief Justice, and the other eight are often referred to as jurists.
The reason for odd-numbered panels is to prevent a tie in split decisions. It’s somewhat rare that all panel members agree on appeal motions. Appeals are upheld or dismissed based on a majority rule. It’s not like the trial process where all jurors must unanimously agree on a verdict.
Most appeal courts designate one judge to write the reasons for a decision. Judges who agree with the decision are said to concur. Those who disagree are dissenters. It’s only open to appeal an appellant court’s decision to a higher court if the decision is split. Unanimous rulings for or against the appellant are final and binding decisions.
The Verdict Appeal Process
All appeal courts have defined processes and strict protocols for hearing cases. An appeal isn’t an automatic right in American civil law. Appeals are an available option, provided the appellant has sufficient grounds for requesting their verdict be reviewed by a superior court. A defendant or plaintiff can’t be just unhappy with their trial court verdict. They must apply for leave to appeal and demonstrate that an error in law or procedure occurred during the trial.
The alleged error or errors have to be significant in a way that probably changed the trial verdict. Harmless errors are not grounds for appeal. There must have been a serious mistake like improperly admitting or excluding evidence. The legal test is that the described error(s) must have been prejudicial to the verdict and therefore was a harmful and reversible error.
There’s a limited timeframe for filing an appeal. Most courts allow thirty days after the verdict for an appellant to file for leave to appeal and submit a written brief describing what trial law mistakes occurred and how they likely affected the outcome. If leave is granted, the appeal court will set a court date to review the reasons for the appeal.
Appeal courts rarely hear direct witness testimony. They also don’t accept new or additional evidence unless there are exceptional circumstances. Appeal courts rely on the trial record. That includes transcripts of proceedings, witness testimony, exhibit lists, and documents. Appeal judges also only review what applies to the alleged error. They rarely review an entire case.
Appeal Court Rulings
Appeal courts do not conduct a trial. Their role is to review the original trial process and ensure it was fairly conducted according to established rules in the jurisdiction the trial was held. Occasionally, state appeal courts and those at federal circuit court levels will make constitutional rulings. However, sensitive issues that have national consequences tend to climb up to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Appeal courts attempt to be thorough, but they refrain from revisiting what juries or the presiding bench judge considered evidential facts. That is the primary function of the trial process, and those present were best equipped to judge facts.
Appeal courts have three primary options for case resolution:
- Affirm the verdict and uphold the trial decision
- Reverse the verdict and dismiss the trail decision
- Remand the verdict and sent it back for retrial
Appeal courts aren’t only asked to review legal procedure in mesothelioma and other civil lawsuits. Occasionally, plaintiffs and defendants agree with the jury’s verdict but disagree with the award decisions. This might be a defendant disputing a large compensation payment or a plaintiff claiming they were shortchanged.
Retaining a Mesothelioma Attorney
Mesothelioma lawsuits are complicated and extensive procedures. Asbestos cases are America’s largest civil tort, and they take a tremendous amount of experience and resources to successfully litigate. Attorneys who practice mesothelioma claims are intricately familiar with how the rules of evidence apply in asbestos-related cases.
If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma, then it’s important to understand your rights and seek justice for your suffering. Contact our Justice Support Team today for more information on mesothelioma diagnoses and asbestos claims.