Ten Things Every Trial Lawyer Should Know About Texas Appellate Law

1. To preserve error for appellate review, a trial lawyer must make a timely, specific request, objection, or motion on the record and obtain a ruling. If error is not preserved, there is little an appellate lawyer can do to help.

2. A ruling on a motion in limine does not preserve error. The party opposing the admission of evidence must still object when it is offered at trial. The party seeking to introduce evidence must still offer the evidence on the record to preserve error in its exclusion.

3. A party objecting to something included in the charge must point out distinctly the objectionable matter and the ground for the objection. A party objecting to the failure to include a question, definition or instruction must tender the requested question, definition or instruction in writing in substantially correct form, have the trial court refuse it, and make sure the ruling is filed with the court and included in the appellate record.

4. To preserve a complaint of no evidence or legally insufficient evidence, a trial lawyer should:

  • move for a directed verdict at the close of evidence;
  • object to submission of jury questions not supported by evidence;
  • move for judgment non obstante veredicto; or
  • move to disregard the jury’s answer to a question.

5. A motion for new trial should be filed to preserve complaints

  • that jury findings are supported by factually insufficient evidence or against the great weight and preponderance of the evidence;
  • that damages are inadequate or excessive;
  • of incurable jury argument; or
  • that require evidence.

6. An appellate court will independently review questions of law such as construing an unambiguous contract, interpreting a statute, or rulings on jurisdiction, venue or choice of law.

7. Appellate courts will often defer to trial courts on discretionary rulings like discovery rulings, sanctions rulings, class certification and admission or exclusion of evidence.

8. An appellate court will affirm factual findings that are supported by evidence.

9. Not every properly preserved error is harmful. If an error did not cause the rendition of an improper judgment or prevent a party from properly presenting the case to the court of appeals, an appellate court will not reverse.

10. A notice of appeal is due 30 days after judgment unless extended by post-trial motions. If a motion for a new trial, motion to modify, or proper request for findings of fact and conclusions of law is filed, the deadline for filing a notice is 90 days after the judgment is signed.