Class Action Concussion Suit Earns a First Down Against Pop Warner Youth Football
Parents in a class action suit gained yardage against Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc, the nation’s largest youth football league. On Friday, October 20th, 2017, California U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez refused to blow the whistle on claims that Pop Warner failed to institute league-wide guidelines and increased the risk of head injury to its players. “Pop Warner Little Scholars argues that the fraud claims fail because head trauma is an inherent risk of tackle football,” the judge wrote, but what the parents are alleging is “that PWLS misrepresented that safety was its top priority, with coaches trained in head injuries, equipment that afforded the best protection, and rules and procedures designed to protect children from injury — all with the knowledge that none of this was true, to boost the number of Pop Warner participants.” Judge Gutierrez tossed the parents’ causes of action related to California’s Unfair Competition law and Unfair Business Practices Act, but allowed the allegations of negligence, fraud, fraudulent concealment, and negligent misrepresentation to proceed.
The case was brought in 2016 by two parents, Kimberly Archie and Joe Cornell, whose sons were found to have suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) during postmortem autopsies, and two more parents, Debra McCrae and Shannon Barnes, had since joined. On Friday, Judge Gutierrez dismissed the McCrae and Barnes’s claims for either coming into the suit too late or because they lacked standing to sue, but gave the Archie and Cornell until November 20th to file a third amended complaint.
Pop Warner and USA Football had adopted the ‘Heads Up’ program in 2012, a comprehensive safety program, but an investigation by The New York Times found that USA Football relied on flawed research to bolster its claims that Heads Up Football helped reduce the risk of concussions. The parents’ lawsuit alleges, essentially, that Pop Warner only made it appear that youth football was safe, but did not actually make games any safer. The complaint states Pop Warner failed to monitor games, practices, rules, equipment and medical care, failed to accurately diagnose brain injuries, and failed to approve the best equipment available.
Pop Warner has already fended off other lawsuits brought by families of players who were significantly injured or died. The current suit had also accused the National Operating Committee on Standards Athletic Equipment, or NOCSAE, of certifying helmets that were not designed to properly protect younger players, and overstating their safety benefits. However, Judge Gutierrez dismissed NOCSAE from the suit with prejudice for lack of personal jurisdiction, finding that the parents did not establish NOCSAE had sufficient contacts with California.