Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Oct 4, 2011

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If the decision in your case seems either unfair or inequitable, you do have some options. Instead of refusing to pay and declaring bankruptcy, consider filing an appeal for your civil case. All civil cases have the right to one appeal. This means that you can draft a letter to the state board of appeals explaining why the decision should be changed. If you do decide to take the appeals route, you will most likely need a new attorney, as civil appeal law is a specialty of law unto itself with nuances that most trial attorneys will not be familiar with.

The first matter to consider when deciding whether to appeal your case is whether there were any errors made during the trial. Without an error, you have nothing to appeal. The most common errors in civil cases include errors of law, errors of fact, and errors in fact collecting. An error of law occurs when a judge in a civil case makes a mistake during the trail. Common mistakes that are appealed include ruling wrongly on a vital objection, admitting evidence that should not have been admitted, and using improper jury instructions.

Common mistakes in fact that happen include biased jury members or an improper verdict by the jury. Finally, an error in fact collecting happens when evidence was obtained using unconstitutional means such as failing to obtain discovery approval.

The next important factor to consider for your appeal is timing. In most state and federal cases, a motion to appeal must be filed within 30 days of the verdict’s publication. If it has been more than 30 days since you received your official verdict paperwork, then your time has run out to appeal. If you are within those 30 days, then you still have time but you must move quickly.

Next, you’ll need to hire an attorney. While it may seem unnecessary if you’ve represented yourself in the civil case, think again. Motions for appeal require specific drafting. In fact, most trial lawyers even shy away from appealing cases because of all the strict nuances and ways that a mistake can be made. For instance, federal appeals have a page limit, font size, font type, spacing, and even binding requirements. Additionally, they must be organized in the court’s required fashion and site your sources a specific way. If you fail to complete any of these requirements, then your motion for appeal will not be accepted and your time has already tolled to try again.

As a general rule, if you are on the fence about filing an appeal for your case, talk to your trial attorney. If your trial attorney recommends appealing and can give you specific reasons why you should appeal, consult with an appeals attorney and start the process.