This paper expands the set of previously considered liability rules to include a negligence liability rule with a vague specification of due care. Auditors who are negligent in conducting their audit are liable for losses that result from reliance on misstated financial statements. However, what constitutes negligence for auditors is not clearly specified in the law. Consequently, courts often resort to Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAS) and Statements on Auditing Standards (SAS) as benchmarks for determining due care. A liability regime that consists of a vague negligence rule supports and amplifies the credibility of auditing standards. While auditing standards alleviate some of the vagueness that is inherent in the legal standard, they also form a lower bound on due care, since an audit of a quality that is lower than the quality that auditing standards require would be considered negligent. Thus, the vague specification of due care enables auditors to commit to audit quality as pronounced in auditing standards. This paper explores this link between professional standards and auditors' legal liability. It establishes that the commitment to auditing standards could not have been as credible as it is, if auditors' liability was determined based on the strict liability rule, or based on a negligence rule with a clearly specified due care, since under these two liability rules courts would not need to refer to auditing standards to establish fault. The paper also demonstrates that a legal regime where audit standards are used as a benchmark to evaluate negligence is not the same as a legal regime where due care is defined clearly. Therefore, previous studies that assumed a negligence regime with clear due care may have overstated the effort level that is induced by legal liability.
Review of Quantitative Finance and Accounting – Springer Journals
Published: Oct 6, 2004
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