Magazine article The CPA Journal

Hidden Biases among Jurors in Accounting Malpractice Cases

Magazine article The CPA Journal

Hidden Biases among Jurors in Accounting Malpractice Cases

Article excerpt

While researching the behavior of juries, we examined the attitudes, experiences and predispositions that jurors are likely to bring to court when deciding accounting malpractice suits. As a result, we have developed the following advice for attorneys when preparing for cases involving accountant and auditor performance issues. The advice and guidance would also be useful to expert witnesses testifying on accounting issues and to accounting firms that find themselves embroiled in malpractice litigation.

Understanding these predispositions will help counsel preparing for trial to develop the most persuasive case by focusing on arguments that are easily communicated while avoiding arguments that confront jurors' basic beliefs and tendencies. Without this information, counsel can unknowingly run up against hardened, preexisting opinions that can spell defeat even before the trial begins.

Accountants are perceived as experienced, knowledgeable, honest, law abiding, and competent; jurors see accountants as having a moral duty to be accurate and to dig beneath the surface; few jurors believe that professionals in a big accounting firm would conspire to cheat their clients.

Therefore defense witnesses will be under considerable pressure to meet jurors' high expectations. Whether the principal witnesses are viewed as knowledgeable and trustworthy will strongly affect the outcome of the case.

Recommendations

* Given the importance of witnesses and the fact that key witnesses are likely to be inexperienced in court, more than usual attention should be paid to witness preparation.

* If time and budget allow, juror reaction to mock direct and cross examination of key witnesses can be a useful tool in final preparation and as a means of fine tuning case strategy.

* Most jurors believe that lawyers and accountants together have the responsibility to advise clients regarding the risks of accounting advice.

* Jurors believe that accountants sometimes do a poor job, however,

* Their work is only as good as the information the client provides and,

* The client is responsible for the accuracy of that information. …

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