Following a trial in a civil lawsuit (and, in some cases, before a trial) either party can file an appeal challenging a legal determination. An appeal is a formal request for review of a decision by a lower court on a matter of law. Appeals are not filed because a party disagrees with a jury (or bench) decision about the facts. Our Chicago birth injury lawyers know that if that were true, then appeals might be filed in every single case.
However, appeals are only filed when a party believes that the law itself was improperly applied or construed. When that is the case they can ask a “higher” court to hear their concerns to potentially overturn the lower court ruling. If the appellate court agrees with the appellant (party who is appealing), then the court has flexibility in determining what remedy is necessary, often a new trial.
Supreme Court Reversal
For example, Online Athens reported last week on a new decision by the Georgia Supreme Court which granted a new trial to a family following a birth injury. The family first filed the medical malpractice lawsuit after their daughter suffered a birth injury in 1998. The case went to trial with the family alleging that errors made by an obstetrician caused the child to suffer a serious, irreversible injury. At trial a jury ruled in favor of the defendant.
However, the family appealed the case. There was one major grounds for appeal: the denial of the injured girl’s right to be inside the courtroom during most of the trial. The trial court judge decided that the injured girl–whose rights were at issue in the case–could not be in the courtroom because of the undue sympathy that it might invoke in the jury. In other words, the judge did not trust the jury to separate sympathy for the girl from their role applying the facts to the law. The judge thought they would feel sorry for the girl and allow those emotions to cloud their judgment.
While issues of undue juror influence is important in all cases, each Illinois birth injury attorney at our firm knows that it is essential for plaintiffs in civil suits be given the opportunity to attend the trial in their own case. The fact that a girl is disabled should never change that basic fact.
Fortunately, the Georgia Supreme Court agreed. In a near-unanimous opinion the court ordered a new trial in the case because of the bar on the girl’s attending the proceedings. In the opinion the court reminded that “the right of a natural party to be present in the courtroom when her case is being tried is deeply rooted in the law of this nation.”
They continued that even if the trial judge’s fear of undue sympathy were true, there were other means to handle those concerns beyond barring the plaintiff. For example, the venue could have been changed or certain jurors who may have had a propensity to weigh the sympathy too heavily might have been excluded.
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