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What is a "reversible error?"

If you should find that your civil court legal dispute is one of the minority that does not settle before a judge or jury renders a decision, and for some reason that decision goes against you, you will be faced with a decision: "What next?" There are two basic choices that you can make.

First, you can decide to accept the result and to move on. Sometimes, your situation may be such that continuing the legal contest has reached a point of diminishing returns, and the better course is to let the battle end.

Or, if you believe that the decision at the trial court level was wrong, you can explore with your attorney the option of seeking an appeal of that decision. If this is your choice, the New Jersey legal system has a built-in mechanism to review trial court judgments to ensure that they were indeed fair: the appeals courts. This post provides a brief overview of how the civil appeal process works, starting with its first and most important question: do you have grounds on which to make an appeal?

The appeal process is not meant to re-litigate the trial. The appeals court will not reconsider the facts, evidence and testimony that were presented at trial, or consider new evidence. Rather, what the appeal must do to qualify for consideration is to demonstrate to the appeals court that during the trial a “reversible error” took place.

But just what is a reversible error?

One way to look at it is to determine what it is not: the appeals court will not reverse a trial court decision even if the appeal can prove that mistakes were made, as long as those mistakes were “harmless error” (that is, there is no right to a "flawless" trial). But if on appeal you can show that an error had the effect of prejudicing the outcome -- that is, if the error had not happened the outcome at trial may have gone in your favor -- that is a reversible error.

The determination of whether a reversible error occurred at trial is one for you and your attorney to consider carefully. Also, in some cases you may want to consult with a different attorney if your trial attorney does not include New Jersey civil appeals as a part of his or her practice. 

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