A federal judge in California has ruled that the negligence and fraud claims brought by parents suing Pop Warner Little Scholars Inc. (PWLS) can continue.
While the court sided with the plaintiffs on their allegations that the nonprofit football group misrepresented its safety protocols as well as heightened the risk of injury by not instituting leaguewide guidelines, it did find for PWLS on the question of whether it misrepresented its safety protocols, which was tied to California’s Unfair Competition law and Unfair Business Practices Act.
One of the plaintiffs in the suit is Kimberly Archie, who is representing her son. Archie is the founder of the National Cheer Safety Foundation.
As the litigation continues, Arthur L. Caplan and Lee H. Igel recently wrote an article for Forbes.com in which they examined the circumstances around the case. Caplan, PhD, is the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor and head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center. Igel, PhD, is associate professor in the Tisch Institute at New York University. Both are affiliated with the NYU Sports and Society program.
“The lawsuit was filed by the mothers of two players whose sons died away from fields of play, but whose deaths, they claim, were a result of what happened on them,” they wrote. “One of men died at age 24, in a motorcycle accident, and the other at 25, in an act of suicide. Both played in Pop Warner youth leagues for several years when they were younger — and both were diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after their lives ended. The moms want the court to decide whether Pop Warner is at all liable for the brain injuries that they say led to their sons’ deaths.”
“Lawyers in the lawsuit against Pop Warner will argue whether a cumulative brain injury such as CTE is covered in the waiver signed by the players’ parents. They are also likely to argue over the value of the existing medical science on CTE. While the progressive degenerative disease, which has been discovered in the brains of football players and other people who have suffered repeated head trauma, has received its fair share of attention across sports, news media, Hollywood films, public discussions, and legal disputes during the past several years, medical science has not yet established a direct link between the injury and hits to the head.
“At this point, no one can say for sure whether CTE specifically led to the tragic deaths of two young men, whether it was one factor among a few, or whether it had almost nothing to do with why they died. But even if — or when — it becomes clear that repeated hits to the head on the playing field cause CTE and the symptoms and impaired decision-making that come with it, there is a good chance that there will be parents still willing to let their kids sign up to play contact sports.
“Signing a waiver on registration day is unlikely to prevent most people from participating in a risky activity like playing football. Nor is that waiver likely to hold up as the science strengthens around head injury. Pop Warner may not be found responsible in a courtroom. But, in the eyes of parents, this lawsuit may just be good enough to get some of them not to sign a permission form.”