Appellate Insights

Jun 20, 2019 Laurie J. Hepler
Error Alone

Trial court error alone is almost never enough to reverse a civil judgment.  In almost all cases, a civil appellant must also show prejudice from any error, i.e. a reasonable likelihood of a more favorable result if the error hadn’t occurred.

But as usual, there are exceptions.  In these rare situations, and a handful of others, reversal will flow from a showing of error alone:

  • The trial court interpreted an arbitration provision that properly fell under the arbitrator’s scope of authority.  (Reason: There’s no way to say whether an arbitrator would have decided the same or differently.)
  • The trial court violated a statute clearly designed to restrict the court’s power to act.  (Reason:  The court exceeded its jurisdiction.)
  • The trial court erroneously sustained a demurrer without leave to amend.  (Reason:  The pleader is denied any consideration of the merits.)

►  The practical message:  Any cost-benefit analysis for appeal should include determination of whether the claimed errors fall into the small class entitling the losing party to relief.  If not, the appellant will have to be able to demonstrate prejudice.