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Is motivational speaker responsible for coal-walking burns?

Some Atlanta residents may be familiar with Tony Robbins, a motivational speaker who is well-known for his self-help books and infomercials. Robbins is also known to incorporate fire-walks into his seminars, during which the participants walk barefoot over hot coals.

At one such seminar last week, more than 20 people reportedly suffered second- and third-degree burns to the bottom of their feet due to the activity. The seminar's organizers reportedly did have a permit from the city to allow the fire-walking, but the injuries do raise some premises liability and negligence questions.

By encouraging people to walk over 10 feet of hot coals, heated to temperatures near 2,000 degrees, did the motivational speaker mislead participants about the danger of exposing their bare feet to fire? Or, did participants voluntarily assume an obvious risk when they took their shoes off and walked over coals?

Organizers of the event say that the coal-walking challenge is meant to show participants that they can overcome obstacles. They say that more than 6,000 attendees walked across the coals at the San Jose seminar, meaning only about 1 in 286 of them suffered personal injuries as a result.

Robbin's company, Robbins Research International, Inc., said that the seminars have hosted coal-walking for decades under the supervision of medical personnel.

In general, someone might be held liable for injuries when he or she was negligent in keeping a premise safe. In these cases, victims can bring claims for medical expenses, pain and suffering and lost income, among other things.

These cases often involve complex issues, such as whether injured people took a known risk before becoming hurt, or whether they had a right to assume they would be safe from harm.

What do you think? Are coal-walking injuries the fault of the injured or that of the person who lit the coals and said "walk"?

Source: New York Times, "A Self-Improvement Quest That Led to Burned Feet," Carol Pogash, July 22, 2012

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