Judge allows lawsuit against Pop Warner to proceed
The lawsuit was filed by the mother of Donnovan Hill. The young boy was paralyzed by an on-field hit while playing Pop Warner football. Hill’s mother claims that coaches taught players to tackle head first, and that technique, she said, led to her son’s injury.Parents of players in the league are required to sign a pre-participation waiver that acknowledges the sport could cause serious injury. However, the judge ruled that the waiver does not cover gross negligence.
Judge Frederick Shaller also declined to absolve of responsibility the national office of Pop Warner, which touts itself as committed to safety but allowed Hill to be coached by volunteers with no training in the organization’s preferred technique. Then-head coach Sal Hernandez, a barber, told Outside the Lines in 2013 that he completed the required training, but in a deposition he later admitted he never took the online modules. None of the administrators at the local, regional or national level noticed or took action against him.
“What’s striking is how little Pop Warner does behind the scenes to meet its promises,” said Rob Carey, lawyer for Hill and his mother, Crystal Dixon. “They’re hosting a combat sport with little kids, and not doing anything they say they’re doing to protect them. Nobody’s enforcing the safety rules, nobody’s checking on safety certification, and there’s no process in place to identify inefficiencies in safety training. There are no penalties for non-compliance, and no structure to resolve problems. That’s all on Pop Warner national. That’s what they’re supposed to do, provide systems that protect children.”
A Wisconsin mother filed a $5 million lawsuit against Pop Warner earlier this year. She alleges that her son suffered from a degenerative brain disease, a result of him playing Pop Warner football. Her son committed suicide in 2012.
According to the article, Hill’s mother has also filed a class-action lawsuit against Pop Warner on behalf of all California parents who signed their children up for football. She claims the league made false claims about the safety of the sport.
One of the points raised by Hill’s mother was after her son’s injury, the league continued to claim on its website that it has never had a catastrophic head or neck injury. In his September deposition, Pop Warner Executive Director Jon Butler responded to that point saying, “There’s no good answer other than you don’t want to advertise the negative.”
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