Appealing a Case in Florida: A Primer

The hope of every litigant entering a trial is that they will win. Of course, that cannot be the case because one side has to lose. Fortunately for litigants, though, there are times when an appeal is appropriate and can give them an additional opportunity to win their case. The key is knowing when to appeal, and knowing the risks involved.

It is important to know the risks because not every appeal can win. In fact, the chance of any appeal being successful is quite low. For example, in the 11th Circuit of the Federal Courts of Appeals, only 8.9% of the cases appealed were reversed. But that should not scare someone with a good, appealable issue away from taking their case to another level. A good attorney will be able to help their client decide whether an appeal is appropriate or not.

Court Structure

Before we try to understand the appeals process in Florida, it is important to understand Florida's court structure. Florida's court system has several levels, each playing an important part in the justice system. The different courts in Florida are:

  • County Trial Courts – each county has a court that hears the lowest level issues under Florida's laws. The county courts will hear small claims disputes, traffic citations, and other, less serious criminal cases.
  • Circuit Trial Courts – these courts have general jurisdiction over all criminal matters, and complex civil cases. They also hear appeals from county trial courts.
  • District Courts of Appeal – there are five District Courts of Appeal in Florida, and they hear the appeals from the circuit court trial and judicial decisions. It is generally a rule that the District Court of Appeal is a litigant’s final court of appeal.
  • Supreme Court – the Florida Supreme Court is the final court of appeal, but there is not an absolute right of review. So many cases that are appealed to the Supreme Court will not be heard. This court limits its caseload to the cases that will shape law, develop public policy, and correct clear misgivings of justice.

Now that we have a clear view of the courts system, lets look at the appeals process itself.

Florida's Appeals Process

Nobody can appeal a case without a final, appealable issue from a trial court. This can come in a number of ways, but typically it means that either a jury has handed down a verdict, or a judge has issued a decision that makes a case final. There are some exceptions to this general rule, but this is typically when a case will be appealed. Since this is a personal injury law blog, we will focus on circuit court appeals to the district courts of appeal.

After a final decision in a circuit court, the party making an appeal will file a notice of appeal with the district court of appeal in their area. This notice is important and it must be filed within the timeframe described in Florida's Rules of Appellate Procedure. After the notice is filed the appealing party then has to:

  • Get a record of what happened at the circuit court, including transcript and filings;
  • Write briefs outlining to the district court of appeals the reason an appeal is being made and why the case should be reversed;
  • Make oral arguments in front of the district court of appeal judges. This is a chance for the lawyers to convince the judge or judges that their case is one that should be reversed; and
  • Get the court's decision.

It sounds simple enough, but the process is complex and requires the right attorney to advise the client. It is also a time consuming process that can be expensive and draining on anyone who tries.
We hope you enjoyed reading this blog post, and want to remind all victims of accident or injury in the Panama City area that The Pittman Firm is ready to represent and fight for you.

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