Over many years, Jake and Jo Bob built up a barbeque ribs business, Hambones, Inc., which caters picnics and parties and sells ribs and corn at county fairs. They have several creditors, including Sauce Supply and First State Bank.
Two years ago, in reliance on an audit of the company’s books prepared by Hambones, Inc.’s accounting firm, Able & Henderson, First State Bank made a loan to Hambones, Inc. It now appears that the audit failed to disclose financial improprieties in Hambones, Inc.’s maintenance of its books: Certain liabilities were being carried off the books, causing Hambones, Inc.’s bottom line to appear more favorable than it really was. The decision to carry the liabilities off the bookswas made by Jake and Jo Bob, but there is now an argument as to whether a more careful audit would have uncovered the liabilities. Jake told the accounting firm that the audit was being done at the bank’s request in order for the loan to be approved, and that it was really important that the company receive a clean bill of health from the audit. Able & Henderson didn’t want to lose Hambones, Inc. as a client.
Sauce Supply also knew that Hambones, Inc. had been audited and heard from Jake and Jo Bob that the auditors were very satisfied with Hambones, Inc.â€™s financial position. Jake gave Sauce Supply’s president, Sandy Saucy, a copy of the audit report. Able & Henderson had no knowledge of these statements, or that Sauce Supply had received a copy of the audit report.
What standard of care applies to Able & Henderson’s accounting work for Hambones, Inc.? Does Able & Henderson face any negligence liability to First State Bank or Sauce Supply in a state that has adopted the Ultramares rule? In a state that has adopted the Restatement rule? In a state that has adopted the Reasonably Foreseeable User rule?