How Can a Civil Judgment Be Overturned?

Updated March 23, 2017

A civil judgment is the court's formal, written decision in a lawsuit and reflects the outcome. To avoid the judgment's effect, the losing party must ask a court to overturn the judgment. A judgment may be overturned on an appeal, by a trial court granting a new trial, striking the judgment or correcting it. These methods are distinguished by when the losing party must request the judgment be overturned, whether an appellate or trial court makes the decision and the grounds for overturning the judgment.


A civil judgment may be overturned on appeal if there is no factual or legal basis for the judgment, the trial court did not follow the law or the trial judge wrongly allowed or kept out evidence. The appeals court can only consider the facts and papers presented to the trial court and legal arguments. Witnesses do not testify. The parties may not retry the case or present new evidence. Generally, appeals must be started within 30 days after the judgment.

Request a New Trial

A losing party may obtain a new trial because of legal errors, misconduct by the jury or the winning party, new evidence or significant mistakes by the losing party's lawyer. The court may consider only the evidence at trial, unless the losing party claims juror misconduct, new evidence or some other reason that does not appear in the trial record. In most states, the party has 10 days after the judgment to request a new trial.

Setting Aside the Judgment

A court may undo a judgment when the losing party is prevented from adequately defending a lawsuit, the court had no authority to enter the judgment or the losing party has paid the debt in full. The court may set aside judgments, whether or not they result from a trial. Typically, the defendant --- the party sued --- claims that the opposing party misled the defendant into not answering a lawsuit, favourable evidence was hidden or that the attorney made mistakes for which the defendant is not responsible. A defendant who was prevented from answering the lawsuit must show that a defence existed.

Correcting a Judgment

A trial court may correct a judgment that does not reflect the judge's decision. Clerical errors include writing the wrong amount and math errors. The trial court may not correct legal errors in a judgment. The losing party must timely appeal or ask a trial court for a new trial to address errors of law.

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About the Author

Christopher Raines enjoys sharing his knowledge of business, financial matters and the law. He earned his business administration and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a lawyer since August 1996, Raines has handled cases involving business, consumer and other areas of the law.