Arthur Andersen And Other Accounting Failures
A system of recording or settling accounts in financial transactions; the methods of determining income and expenses for tax and other financial purposes. Also, one of the remedies available for enforcing a right or redressing a wrong asserted in a lawsuit.
Various accounting methods may be employed. The accrual method shows expenses incurred and income earned for a given period of time whether or not such expenses and income have been actually paid or received by that time. The cash method records income and expenses only when monies have actually been received or paid out. The completed contract method reports gains or losses on certain long-term contracts. Gross income and expenses are recognized under this method in the tax year the contract is completed. The installment method of accounting is a way regulated utilities calculate depreciation for INCOME TAX purposes.
The cost method of accounting records the value of assets at their actual cost, and the fair value method uses the present market value for the recorded value of assets. Price level accounting is a modern method of valuing assets in a financial statement by showing their current value in comparison to the gross national product.
Where a court orders an accounting, the party against whom judgment is entered must file a complete statement with the court that accounts for his or her administration of the affairs at issue in the case. An accounting is proper for showing how an executor has managed the estate of a deceased person or for disclosing how a partner has been handling partnership business.
An accounting was one of the ancient remedies available in courts of EQUITY. The regular officers of the Chancery, who represented the king in hearing disputes that could not be taken to courts of law, were able to serve as auditors and work through complex accounts when necessary. The chancery had the power to discover hidden assets in the hands of the defendant. Later, courts of law began to recognize and enforce regular contract claims, as actions in ASSUMPSIT, and the courts of equity were justified in compelling an accounting only when the courts at law could not give relief. A plaintiff could ask for an accounting in equity when the complexity of the accounts in the case made it too difficult for a jury to resolve or when a trustee or other fiduciary was charged with violating a position of trust.
In the early twenty-first century, courts in the United States generally have jurisdiction both at law and in equity. They have the power to order an accounting when necessary to determine the relative rights of the parties. An accounting may be appropriate whenever the defendant has violated an obligation to protect the plaintiff's interests. For example, an accounting may be ordered to settle disputes when a partnership is breaking up, when an heir believes that the executor of an estate has sold off assets for less than their fair market value, or when shareholders claim that directors of a corporation have appropriated for themselves a business opportunity that should have profited the corporation.
An accounting may also be an appropriate remedy against someone who has committed a wrong against the plaintiff and should not be allowed to profit from it. For example, a bank teller who embezzles money and makes "a killing" by investing it in mutual funds may be ordered to account for all the money taken and the earnings made from it. A businessperson who palms off a product as that of a more popular manufacturer might have to account for the entire profit made from it. A defendant who plagiarizes another author's book can be ordered to give an account and pay over all the profits to the owner of the copyrighted material. An accounting forces the wrongdoer to trace all transactions that flowed from the legal injury, because the plaintiff is in no position to identify the profits.
Meyer, Charles H. 2002. Accounting and Finance for Lawyers in a Nutshell. 2d ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group.
Rachlin, Robert, and Allen Sweeny. 1996. Accounting and Financial Fundamentals for Nonfinancial Executives. New York: AMACON.