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Appellate court decisions




Prior federal and state civil appeals studies show that appeals courts overturn jury verdicts more than bench decisions and that defendants fare better than plaintiffs on appeal. Attitudinal and selection effect hypotheses may help explain an appellate court tilt that favors defendants. This study builds on and extends our prior work on state civil appeals and examines a comprehensive state court civil appeals data set to test leading theories on appellate outcomes as well as to explore the relation between plaintiff success at trial and on appeal. Using data from 40 different states and 141 counties on 8,872 completed civil trials and 646 concluded appeals, we find that appellate reversal rates for jury trials and defendant appeals exceed reversal rates for bench trials and plaintiff appeals. The reversal rate for plaintiff appeals is 21 percent, compared with 40.9 percent for defendant appeals. The reversal rate for jury trials is 33.1 percent, compared with 25 percent for bench trials. Both the attitudinal and selection effect hypotheses find some level of support in our descriptive analyses and results from more formal models. Finally, we find little correlation between how plaintiffs fare at trial and how they fare on appeal.

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