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Published in The Journal of Legal Studies, vol. 38 (1) (January 2009).


Prior federal civil appellate 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 explain the appellate court tilt favoring defendants. This study presents the first statistical models of the appeals process for a comprehensive set of state court civil trials to test theories on appellate outcomes. Using data from 46 large counties on 8,038 trials and 549 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 21.5 percent, compared with 41.5 percent for defendant appeals. The reversal rate for jury trials is 33.7 percent, compared with 27.5 percent for bench trials. Descriptive analyses and more formal models suggest that appellate judges’ attitudes toward trial-level adjudicators help explain these asymmetric outcomes.

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Appellate court decisions

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