Youth football may never be the same after this
New York Post
8th March 2016
The nation’s largest youth football program, Pop Warner, has settled its first and only lawsuit that was brought by the mother of a former player who blamed the sport for her son’s suicide, The Post has learned. The complaint, filed in February 2015 against Pop Warner and its liability insurer in a federal court in Wisconsin, was settled for less than $2 million, two sources said. The suit had sought at least $5 million in punitive damages for Joseph Chernach, who killed himself at age 25 in 2012.
An autopsy found he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a brain disease caused by repeated head hits and a contributor to depression and other mental health problems. The settlement is less than the $2 million liability policy Pop Warner had for each player, according to one source. “They gave some money to the family but not the full policy,” the source said.
“It’s tough to say this is a win [for the family]. ” The family is not allowed to speak about the suit or the organization under the terms of the settlement, which will be sealed, the source added. A lawyer for the family did not return calls seeking comment.
A deal was reached before Wisconsin federal Judge William Conley could rule on Pop Warner’s motion to dismiss the suit, a second source said. Debra Pyka said her son developed the cumulative brain disease from playing in the youth football league from 1997 to 2000, starting as an and suffered concussions that were not diagnosed at the time. Pop Warner failed to train coaches and trainers to spot the symptoms and, as a consequence, Chernach was never removed from play despite multiple head injuries, the suit alleged.
A spokesman the Langhorne, Pa. organization said the case has been “resolved with prejudice” — meaning the decision is final — but would not comment on the terms, citing a agreement. Dr.
Bennet Omalu — the Nigerian forensic pathologist played by Will Smith in “Concussion,” the film about brain injuries in the NFL — was a key witness for the family, one source said. A federal judge last year approved a nearly $1 billion settlement between the NFL and 20, 000 retired players, who sued over concussions and trauma. The NFL’s concussion crisis has trickled down to the high school level, sparking complaints.
At the time of the suit, Pop Warner had $2 million in liability insurance on players in Wisconsin through the Lexington Insurance Company, a subsidiary of AIG. Today, Pop Warner carries $1 million in liability insurance per player through K&K Insurance Group. Individual chapters have the option to carry an additional $1 million policy per player.
That could prompt other parents to sue the program over injuries, a source said. Pop Warner said parents should have been aware that, although “extremely rare,” there were serious risks to playing youth football, according to the suit. The organization said it could only be found liable under Wisconsin law if an activity is extremely dangerous and uncommon, while youth football is a popular and commonly played sport.
Many states have similar liability laws. The organization has 325, 000 participants in its football, dance and cheerleading programs across the country, according to the company’s website. Pop Warner had a record 248, 899 players in its football program in 2010, but participation dropped 9.
5 percent between 2010 and 2012, according to figures obtained by ESPN. Growing awareness of head injuries prompted some parents to pull their kids from the sport, while participation in team sports is down across the board in general. Since 2010, Pop Warner has followed a Washington state law that requires coaches to bench kids if they suspect a concussion.
The kids are not allowed to play again until cleared by a qualified physician..
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