by Josh Kosman March 2016
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The New York Post
Pop Warner, the nation's largest youth football program, has settled its first and only concussion-related lawsuit - brought by a mother who claimed her son committed suicide because of brain injuries he received from playing football in the league, The Post has learned.
Debra Pyka settled her 2015 suit for less than $2 million, two sources said.
After Joseph Chernach died at age 25, an autopsy was performed on his brain, which revealed he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, and post-concussion syndrome.
Chernach played Pop Warner football for four years, beginning when he was 11, court papers allege.
From AB: Pop Warner Football Blamed for Former Player’s Suicide
Pyka had sued for $5 million in punitive damages. The settlement is less than the $2-million-per-player liability policy limit carried by the league, according to one source.
Under the terms of the sealed settlement, the family is not allowed to speak about the suit or the 87-year-old organization, the source added.
Pop Warner failed to train coaches and trainers to spot relevant symptoms, and as a consequence, Chernach was never removed from play despite multiple head injuries, the suit alleged.
A spokesman for the Langhorne, Pa.-based organization said the case has been "resolved with prejudice" - meaning the decision is final - but he would not comment on the terms, citing a nondisclosure 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.
While the settlement is the first for a youth football league in the US, the NFL and its former players have been locked in much-publicized litigation for years over the effects of concussions.
Last year, a federal judge approved a nearly $1 billion settlement between the NFL and 20,000 retired players.
The NFL's concussion crisis has trickled down to the high school level.
At the time Pyka sued, Pop Warner had $2 million in liability insurance on players in Wisconsin through 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 of carrying an additional $1-million-per-player policy.
Pop Warner countered the Pyka suit allegations by claiming parents should have been aware that - although severe injuries are "extremely rare" - there were serious risks to playing youth football, according to the suit.
The organization has 325,000 participants in its football, dance and cheerleading programs in the country, according to the company's Web site.
Pop Warner had a record 248,899 players in its football program in 2010, but participation dropped 9.5 percent from 2010 to 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.
Starting in 2010, Pop Warner has followed Washington state laws requiring coaches to bench a youth if they suspect a concussion. Afterward, the kid can't play again until cleared by a qualified physician.