Tarnished Twenty- The FindLaw Sports Law Blog

Pop Warner Settles Concussion-Related Suicide Lawsuit

Pop Warner is the nation's premier youth football organization. With a quarter of million annual participants, just about every player in the NFL got their start in Pop Warner. And this week, Pop Warner settled a scathing lawsuit that claimed the league "recklessly exposed children to the risk of injury including head, brain and other injuries."

The suit was filed by Debra Pyka, whose son Joseph Chernach hung himself in June 2012. Pyka claimed that concussions sustained during Chernach's Pop Warner days were a "substantial factor" in his suicide.

A Public Injury

According to the lawsuit, Chernach began playing Pop Warner in Wisconsin and Michigan when he was 11 years old and played four years of organized football. The suit claims Chernach's suffered concussions and other brain injuries during his playing days, and was diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, after his death. (CTE has also been found in the brains of numerous former football players, including NFL players, many of who have committed suicide after suffering from a range of post-concussive health issues.)

Pyka's lawsuit alleges by the time Chernach was starting his sophomore year in college at the age of 19,

"...the cumulative effects of Dementia Pugilistica and Post Concussion Syndrome began to impact his cognition, behavior and mood. From that point on, his cognitive functioning declined each year until his death. From that point on, his behavior became increasing bizarre. From that point on, his mood became progressively depressed and ultimately paranoid, distrusting his closest friends and family."

Chernach hung himself in his mother's garage when he was 25 years old.

A Private Settlement

The terms of the settlement were not released. Pyka was asking for $5 million in wrongful death damages, along with a determination that Pop Warner had acted intentionally, maliciously, willfully, and outrageously in causing Chernach's death. Attorneys for Pyka and Chernach's family did not comment on the case, and Pop Warner spokesman Brian Heffron said, "Pop Warner dedicates a heavy dose of communication and education for parents, coaches and players," and the league has "led the way in making the game of youth football a safer and better experience than ever before."

Whether the league will make any substantive rule changes or issue further warnings about concussions and CTE remains to be seen.

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