Let's say that Sam the Sociopath invites Peter the Poor man into his luxurious house. They go to a living room with a fireplace. Sam then pulls out 1 million dollars in a fireproof bag that will last 1 minute. Sam throws it into the fireplace and leaves the room. Peter, desperate, jumps into the fireplace, burns himself, and maybe he recovers the money (or maybe he doesn't).

Does Peter have any reasonable grounds to take legal action against the Sam? Sam never explicitly told Peter to jump into the fire, and never explicitly did anything to hurt Peter. Peter just chose himself to get hurt.

I'm not sure what the answer is. For example, McDonald's is obviously killing people by selling burgers to morbidly obese diabetics. But it's more like McDonald's is providing the choice, and the people are choosing to kill themselves by ordering it (as opposed to McDonald's actively killing a person).

The impetus for this question is Psycho-pass 3/Psycho-pass First Inspector, where a person maintains his mental health (despite killing many, many people) by giving all his victims a choice, despite knowing his victims will obviously choose the option that leads to their demise.

P.S.: I know burning legal tender is technically illegal. Ignore those secondary details and try to answer the spirit of my question. If my example is imperfect (which it probably is), feel free to consider a better constructed example (for example, throwing a gold bar into the fire instead).

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    If Peter did recover the money he would technically be a thief since Sam didn't give it to him or pose it as any sort of challenge. Mcdonald's been (unsuccessfully) sued for making people fat before but tobacco companies have had to pay their victims so the only thing stopping mcdonald's from facing a similar fate is public opinion on the matter.
    – jesse_b
    Commented Apr 6 at 16:59
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    @jesse_b I think that the addictive nature of tobacco and the (historic) repeated denials that it is, makes it different from easy access to unhealthy food
    – user 55905
    Commented Apr 7 at 19:25
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    @Alfie there is credible research to show that processed foods can be as addictive as cocaine and there is also a long history of denying that it's bad for you. Additionally McDonalds salads (marketed as a healthy alternative) contain just as much fat and sugar as their burgers and sometimes more. Plus they very intentionally load their bread, sauces, and even meat with copious amounts of added sugar to make them even more addictive.
    – jesse_b
    Commented Apr 7 at 19:52

1 Answer 1


There is no established tort or statutory cause of action under which Sam would be liable.

Sam has no duty of care to Peter to not place Sam's own money at risk of destruction. The only duty in the circumstance would be to not create a "trap or hidden danger." The danger of the fire is clear for all to see.

The closest theory of liability (which is inapplicable in the circumstances) would be "attractive nuisance." This applies to protect children or people with mental impairments, but only when they are unable to understand the hazard. Again, nothing in the scenario you have described suggests that Peter would not understand the hazard caused by a fire.

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    As a follow-up, to play Devil's Advocate, would some form of Squid Game be legal? E.g. you tell the participants "here's a long corridor of molten lava. On the other side of it is a zillion dollars. If you make it across, I will disable the lava, and you can walk out with the zillion dollars."
    – chausies
    Commented Apr 6 at 18:05
  • Regarding the corridor of lava, if you intentionally create a dangerous situation as with booby-traps then you may be liable depending on the details. If you put money at the top of a cliff or offer a cash prize for climbing a cliff that's probably OK, if you release lions maybe not. There are laws about handling many dangerous things, plus building codes, etc. But there are a lot of ways that could play out depending on details (understood or hidden risks). But you're allowed to build a fire in a fireplace, ceteris paribus.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Apr 8 at 11:06

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