Even as lawsuits continue to pile on in Chicago federal
courtrooms against colleges and universities over football-induced concussions,
a new front in the legal scrimmage has opened, as plaintiffs have lined up to
tackle youth football powerhouse Pop Warner over brain injuries allegedly
suffered by young teen athletes.
On Sept. 1, two women who alleged their sons suffered CTE,
or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, from playing youth football, filed a
potential class action lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court against Pop Warner
Little Scholars Inc., the entity that oversees youth tackle football programs
in 42 states and internationally.
In Illinois, Pop Warner administers its Chicagoland
conference, which includes more than two dozen teams from throughout Chicago,
the suburbs and communities just outside of the metropolitan area. The league
offers divisions, based on age and weight, for children ages 5-14, according to
Like other concussion trauma related lawsuits, the
California lawsuit alleged Pop Warner misled parents and the public about the
potential risk of brain injuries which could be suffered by those playing
football. While Pop Warner boasted of its ability to reduce the risk of
concussions and brain injury through its improved equipment and better playing
techniques, the lawsuit said those statements were “false and misleading
advertising” masking the real risks to young athletes.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs have requested the creation
of a class of additional plaintiffs, including anyone who played Pop Warner
youth football anywhere in the U.S. since 1997, and now suffer from brain
injuries, and another class including the parents of those former youth football
The lawsuit also includes as defendants the National
Operating Committee on Standards Athletic Equipment (NOCSEA), which governs the
safety of youth football playing equipment, and USA Football, the official
youth football development partner of the National Football League.
The lawsuit has asked the court to order NOCSEA to slap
warning labels concerning the risk of brain injury on youth football equipment,
to release youth football helmet safety standards and pay out unspecified
damage awards, including punitive damages and attorney fees.
The plaintiffs in the California action are represented by
attorneys Thomas Girardi and Robert Finnerty, of the firm of Girardi &
Keese, of Los Angeles.
The action comes as professional and amateur football
organizations of all kinds find themselves under a blitz of concussion-related
In Cook County, a judge in October 2015 tossed a potential
class action brought against the Illinois High School Association, which
oversees high school football and other athletics throughout Illinois. The
judge in that case dismissed with prejudice the action brought against the IHSA
in 2014, saying he supported the IHSA’s safety record, and that he believed the
best way to protect high school athletes was through the enactment of new laws,
and not huge lawsuits.
Some legal observers at the time said they believed the
ruling would create a high bar for other similar legal actions against the
IHSA, but could still leave the door open for other lawsuits against individual
At the college level, Chicago federal court was chosen by a
panel of federal judges as the jurisdiction in which the mounting number of cases
concerning brain injuries suffered by college athletes would be heard.
Early this year, a federal judge signed off on a $75 million
settlement between a group of former college players, who alleged they had
suffered brain injuries playing college football and other sports, and the
National Collegiate Athletic Association. Under that settlement, the NCAA
agreed to invest in a brain injury screening and evaluation program and to
institute a range of other “corrective measures.” The NCAA also pledged not to
oppose $15 million in attorney fees and payments of $2,500-$5,000 to the former
athletes who brought the lawsuit as named defendants.
However, the settlement also did not foreclose on the
possibility of future class action lawsuits against individual colleges and
universities, or the athletic conferences in which their programs participate.
And in the months since the settlement, about 15 such lawsuits have been filed in federal courts across the country, and
transferred into Chicago.
Cases now pending in the Northern District of Illinois
include lawsuits against the Southeastern Conference, the Atlantic Coast
Conference, the Big 10 Conference, the PAC-12 Conference, the Western Athletic
Conference and member schools including Duke University, Wake Forest
University, Penn State University, Stanford University, Boston College and
Brigham Young University, among others.
Attorneys who have brought those actions include those from
the firms of Edelson P.C., of Chicago, and Wilson Kehoe Winingham, of
The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation selected
U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee to handle the federal college concussion