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    Are Juries More Likely to Second-Guess Auditors Under...
    research summary posted August 31, 2016 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 06.0 Risk and Risk Management, Including Fraud Risk, 06.09 Litigation Risk, 12.0 Accountants’ Reports and Reporting, 12.04 Investigations, 15.0 International Matters, 15.02 IFRS Changes – Impacts 
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    Title:
    Are Juries More Likely to Second-Guess Auditors Under Imprecise Accounting Standards?
    Practical Implications:

     The results of this study have implications for regulatory agencies and standard-setting bodies. As regulators contemplate whether to mandate IFRS and standard setters determine the level of implementation guidance for new standards, the litigation consequences of standard precision are an important consideration. Further, these results highlight the importance of regulators developing ways for jurors to evaluate audit judgments under imprecise standards, especially in industries and areas without precise industry reporting norms. Prior discussion on this issue has focused on how professional judgment frameworks are necessary to protect auditors and their clients from second guessing. This study suggests that judgments frameworks, if effective, may help protect auditors who make conservative judgments and also help hold auditors accountable for overly aggressive judgments.

    Citation:

     Kadous, K., and M. Mercer. 2016. Are Juries More Likely to Second-Guess Auditors Under Imprecise Accounting Standards? Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory 35 (2): 101-117.

    Keywords:
    audit litigation, standard precision, principles versus rules, second-guessing, jury decision making, IFRS
    Purpose of the Study:

    U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) are generally viewed as more precise than International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) in that the former tend to contain more detail about implementation and compliance than the latter. Convergence efforts between U.S. GAAP and IFRS are on going, and have led to greater imprecision in U.S. accounting standards in areas such as lease accounting and revenue recognition. These imprecise standards require increased professional judgment by managers and auditors, which has led to concern that the adoption of less precise standards will result in more second-guessing of auditor judgments by juries and thus greater legal liability. This study seeks to address this concern and examines whether juries are more likely to second-guess auditors’ judgments under an imprecise accounting standard compared to a precise accounting standard. 

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors recruited undergraduate students enrolled in introductory accounting courses at a large university as participants for this study. Two administrations were conducted with the students who participated in a simulated case that lasted 45 minutes during their accounting lab session. Participants acted as jurors in an auditor negligence case involving revenue recognition and were given information related to SFAS No. 66 (Real Estate) to help in their evaluation. The authors manipulated the precision of the accounting guidance as either precise or imprecise. The aggressiveness of the client’s reporting choice was manipulated as either aggressive or conservative.  

    Findings:

    The results of this experiment suggest that auditors’ fear about second-guessing by juries under imprecise accounting standards is warranted. Under an imprecise standard, conservative accounting choices are more likely to be called into question and result in negligence verdicts, ex post.

    • When the client’s reporting is conservative, there appears to be more second guessing of auditor judgments under an imprecise standard compared to a precise standard.
    • When the auditor allows aggressive client reporting, there appears to be less second guessing of auditor judgments under an imprecise standard compared to a precise standard.

    These findings indicate that rather than being overly harsh, juries appear to be overly lenient when auditors allow aggressive accounting under an imprecise standard. A lack of precision appears to make it more difficult for juries to identify whether an auditor’s judgment was reasonable or unreasonable. 

    Category:
    Accountants' Reporting, International Matters, Risk & Risk Management - Including Fraud Risk
    Sub-category:
    IFRS Changes – Impacts, Investigations, Litigation Risk