Do Disclosure Choices and Use of Specialists Reduce Perceptions of Auditor Liability?

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Auditors are required to communicate significant risks and audit strategy to the audit committee. However, the effect on perceived auditor liability of auditor disclosures to the audit committee has been

Auditors are required to communicate significant risks and audit strategy to the audit committee. However, the effect on perceived auditor liability of auditor disclosures to the audit committee has been ignored for the most part in the accounting literature. In an experiment, I examine how the auditor’s choice to disclose a significant risk to the audit committee affects jurors’ negligence assessments of the auditor. Secondarily, I examine whether assessments of auditor negligence vary with the auditor’s use of a specialist. I find that disclosing a risk to the audit committee reduces jurors’ negligence verdicts against the auditor. However, auditor efforts to improve audit quality through use of a specialist do not differentially affect negligence assessments, individually or interactively with disclosure choices. My results further reveal that there is no reduction of negligence assessments by disclosing risks to the audit committee if jurors do not have a pre-existing favorable view of the auditing profession and do not understand the limitations of an audit. Through mediation analysis, I show that these findings are consistent with expectations derived from psychology research examining responsibility attributions in settings with multiple causative agents, where jurors’ diffuse responsibility away from the auditor and toward the audit committee. My results contribute to practice, addressing one cost/benefit consideration related to disclosures to audit committees and the use of specialists, and to accounting research examining the legal ramifications of disclosing identified audit risks.