When you file a personal injury claim, you litigate your case before the trial court, which, in Tennessee, is called the Circuit Court. When a jury decides the case, it issues a “verdict” or a “judgment” favoring one side or the other. If either party believes the verdict is improper, they may file an “appeal.” 

The party who files an appeal (usually the party who lost the case at the trial court) is called the “appellant.” The party responding to the appeal (the party for whom the verdict was decided in their favor) is called the “appellee.”

An appeal sends the case to a higher level court–the Tennessee Court of Appeals. The judges of that court will review the case to determine if the jury’s verdict at the trial court level was correct. The Court of Appeals will then issue an opinion about whether the jury’s verdict will stand or will be reversed.

Why Might I Want to Appeal My Trial Court Verdict?

The Court of Appeals will consider the reasons why the appellant thinks the verdict is improper. However, it is not sufficient that the appellant is unhappy with the verdict or disagrees with the jury’s findings. The appellant must base their decision to appeal on an error of law. 

There are four basic parts of an appeal:

  • Notice of appeal;
  • Appellate briefs;
  • Oral arguments; 
  • The appellate court’s decision

The appellate court will only reverse a trial court opinion if the trial court made an error of law. It will not reconsider the facts of the case. So, for example, if the jury found that the appellant ran the red light and caused the accident, the appellate court cannot decide that it was the appellee who ran the red light. The appellate court is bound by the facts presented at the trial court level.

Here are some examples of errors of law that may serve as a sufficient basis to file an appeal:

  • The court misapplied the law or a legal precedent. This might occur when the court provides instructions to the jury about the law that must be applied in the case.
  • The court allowed evidence to be admitted that should have been excluded or excluded evidence that should have been admitted. This often occurs when expert witnesses are involved.
  • Someone on the jury commits an error, such as discussing the case with someone who is not on the jury or failing to disclose that they have a personal relationship with one of the parties in the case.
  • Even if the facts are accepted as true, they are insufficient to satisfy the law that must be satisfied in the case to support the verdict. For example, if the jury found that the plaintiff at the trial court level suffered no injuries or damages as a result of the accident but nevertheless found the defendant to be negligent

The appellate court cannot simply find that it would have reached a different decision in the case. It must be found that an error of law was committed at the trial court level that made the verdict improper.

Notice of Appeal

An appeal begins with the appellant filing a notice of appeal. Pursuant to Rule 4 of the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure, the notice of appeal must be filed with the clerk of the appellate court “within 30 days after the date of entry of the judgment appealed from.” The notice of appeal must be served on the other parties. This opens the case at the appellate court level.

Appellate Briefs

Pursuant to Appellate Rules 24-26, 15 days after filing the notice of appeal, the appellant will designate the record on appeal, which may include:

  • All papers filed in the trial court; 
  • The original of any exhibits filed in the trial court;
  • The transcript or statement of the evidence or proceedings in the trial court;
  • Any requests for instructions submitted to the trial judge for consideration; and
  • Any other matter designated by a party and properly includable in the record.

Pursuant to Rule 29, the appellant will serve and file an appellate brief within 30 days after the record is filed. The appellee will then have 30 days to file a responsive brief. The appellant then has 14 days to file a reply brief. 

The appellate briefs are written arguments that support the party’s view of the issues raised on appeal. The briefs must satisfy the form requirements of Rule 30.

Oral Arguments

If a party wishes to make oral arguments supporting their position on the issues on appeal, they may make such a request. If granted, each party will have no more than 30 minutes to present their arguments to the court.

If no party requests oral argument, the clerk of the court will submit the case for a decision based on the record and briefs filed by the parties.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The appellate court will consider the matter on appeal to determine if the trial court committed an error of law. 

The court may order any of the following outcomes:

  • The court may affirm the trial court’s decision;
  • The court may reverse the trial court’s decision;
  • The court may affirm some parts of the trial court’s decision and reverse other parts; or
  • The court may send the case back to the trial court for the trial court to take further action. This is called a “remand.”

The court will render a judgment, granting the relief that it deems appropriate. 

A Nashville Personal Injury Attorney Can Help You File an Appeal

Although it is not required, it is highly recommended that you have a personal injury attorney with significant experience handling appellate matters to file your appeal. The Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure are complex and are strictly applied. Failing to follow the required appellate procedure can jeopardize your chances of winning your appeal.

The personal injury attorneys at Labrum Law Firm offer a free consultation to assess your case and will fight for your right to a just and proper verdict in your case.