Accountants Still Targeted a Decade after Recession

Similar to the fallout from Enron, the Great Recession of 2007 saw many accounting firms back in the cross-hairs for allegedly failing to warn of the impending financial doom. Many of these entities (turned plaintiffs) were massive companies with billions in assets, leading to protracted and expensive litigation. While some cases settled to avoid further legal costs, one major accounting firm was recently found liable for violating audit standards for one of its major bank clients prior to the Great Recession. The presiding judge is now set to proceed to the damages phase of the trial, where it will be determined the extent to which damages were caused by the violations.
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How Long Is Too Long to Wait for Malpractice Actions?

One of the most common problems facing a would-be plaintiff considering a malpractice case is when to file suit. Similarly, those that defend professionals must consider whether to move to stay proceedings if applicable. Especially with accountants and attorneys, causation and damages are difficult to calculate until the underlying matter has concluded. This means that the notoriously long legal process can often come into conflict with the statute of limitations, or create evidentiary problems. The decision is whether to wait many years for the underlying action to conclude and damages to materialize, or continue with the malpractice action in the midst of unresolved issues although the facts are still fresh in witness’s minds. In a recent Texas appellate decision, the court ruled that the case should proceed immediately.
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Be an Expert with CPA Experts through the AICPA Code

Most jurisdictions require that a plaintiff establish allegations of accounting malpractice through expert testimony. Moreover, accounting experts are often relied upon to establish damages. Accordingly, the vast majority of litigators, even those outside of the malpractice community, will encounter a CPA expert witness. This may be daunting for attorneys. Fortunately, there’s a handy, but underutilized, guide. The special reports to the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct include ethical standards required of every CPA. The reports provide a readymade guide for evaluating the efficacy and admissibility of a CPA expert’s testimony. Using these standards as a benchmark should help practitioners retain and oppose an accounting expert.
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Attorneys: Be a Watchdog for Your Accountant Clients

The standard of care governing every professional begins with the scope of the engagement. That may seem fairly obvious to those in the professional malpractice community but it is often misunderstood by laypeople. Isn't a CPA engaged to detect fraud? Isn't a lawyer engaged to win my case? One of the difficult aspects of defending a malpractice case is overcoming the lay perspective of the precise role of a professional. Often the defense of a professional can turn on whether the fact finder fully understands the distinct role of the professional in the limited context of the facts presented. Accordingly, professionals should be proactive in ensuring that the parties and others refer to the applicable professional standard that governs the case.
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IRS Warns CPAs: Beware of Phishing

Businesses are increasingly becoming the targets of sophisticated cyber-attacks, and professionals are no exception. When cyber-criminals breach a professional service firm, they not only may gain access to the firm’s corporate data, but also confidential information from the firm’s clients. Therefore, it is incumbent on all professionals to make data security a priority.
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CPA Takes Advantage of Procedural Quirk

The idiosyncratic nature of the Louisiana legal system is one that is noted, if not explored, in many law schools around the country. Even as early as high school, many teachers will explain that Louisiana is unique insofar as its legal system is based primarily on Spanish and French civil law, rather than the British tradition used in the other 49 states. The differences between Louisiana and the rest of the country do not end there, however, and a large accounting firm was recently successful in obtaining dismissal of an action based on a Louisiana-specific accounting malpractice statute.
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When Does the Clock Start?

The application of the statute of limitations affirmative defense is theoretically simple, yet practically complex. Often, the issue is when does the clock start; i.e. when does the claim accrue. The result varies by state and may come down to the specific fact pattern. The water may be muddied further if the plaintiff incurs more than one injury. This is relevant to the professional malpractice community. Take for example a recent California accountant malpractice case involving state and federal audits and $10 million on the line.
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Auditor Dismissed from $50 Million Securities Class Action Suit

In a decisive win for the malpractice community, an independent auditor achieved dismissal in a securities fraud class action lawsuit by way of a 12(b)(6) motion. The Middle District of PA dismissed some of the claims against a troubled bank and all claims against the bank’s public offering underwriter and its outside auditor. The court accepted the auditor’s arguments that the plaintiff had failed to establish the requisite element of scienter necessary to maintain a securities fraud claim and, moreover, had failed to properly plead that the auditor did not “honestly hold” its audit opinions with reference to the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Omnicare. Given the stakes of this litigation, like many securities claims, the victory may serve as an important template for other auditors to follow when faced with similar claims.
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Auditor Has No Fiduciary Duty to Company

In a widely watched and long-awaited decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court definitively determined that an independent auditor has no fiduciary duty to the company, overturning a 2014 Court of Appeals decision finding that such a duty existed. The court, however, was evenly divided on the issue of whether the company’s claims were barred by the defenses of in pari delicto and contributory negligence, leaving undisturbed (albeit without precedential value) the Court of Appeals’ decision that the defenses did not bar the remaining claims. Certified public accountants live to fight another day for the validity of the in pari delicto defense in North Carolina.
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SEC Big 4 Settlement: CPA is Too Close to the Client

Eager young accountants - all professionals, really - often set high goals, but the most common endgame for most is to become a “rainmaker.” Those who build significant relationships and turn leads to a regular stream of business are often in a position to excel professionally. While perceived expertise in a particular field is a must, it is often the relationships that set these partners apart. But when does a relationship become so familiar that a CPA may lose his independence? The SEC recently weighed in on that topic in announcing its recent settlement with Ernst & Young.
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