Concussion Lawsuit Against Pop Warner Is Dismissed

A federal court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Pop Warner, saying the two women who sued the youth football organization failed to prove that their sons’ deaths were directly linked to head trauma sustained a decade earlier as young players.

The women, Kimberly Archie and Jo Cornell, said their sons’ brain trauma was caused by playing Pop Warner football and that trauma led to irrational behavior that contributed to their deaths in 2014. Archie’s son, Paul Bright Jr., died at age 24 in a motorcycle accident. Cornell’s son, Tyler Cornell, was 25 when he died by suicide. In 2015, both men were posthumously found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., the degenerative brain disease associated with repeated head hits.

The judge in the case, Philip S. Gutierrez, in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, said that the mothers did not show sufficient links between the head trauma their sons may have suffered while playing Pop Warner football and their behavior later in life. He also said that they had discounted other contributing factors, including the football that their sons played in high school and “social and biological factors.”

“Plaintiffs essentially argue that any child that plays Pop Warner football, simply by virtue of participating, without any documentation of head trauma, if found with C.T.E.-post-mortem, has a viable cause of action based on any occurrence as a result of recklessness or mood behaviors in that person’s life,” the judge wrote.

Ms. Archie said in an email that she intended to appeal the decision. She added that she believed her son’s brain trauma and erratic behavior were caused by repeated head hits while playing youth football, not individual concussions.

“The courts missed the whole point,” she said.

In a statement, Anthony Corleto, the lead attorney for Pop Warner Little Scholars, said the judge’s ruling was based “on a very clear set of facts.”

“While the motorcycle death of one young man and the suicide of the other are absolutely tragic, their deaths cannot be blamed on youth football,” he said. “Judge Gutierrez’s decision clearly illustrates the speculative nature of these claims and the absence of proof.”

The case, which was set to go to trial in January before the judge’s decision on Friday, was a benchmark for head trauma-related cases against sports organizations. Earlier this decade, thousands of retired N.F.L. players accused the league of knowing that repeated head hits could lead to cognitive and neurological problems but failed to warn the players.

The players’ lawyers settled with the league before the case went to trial. One of their rationales for avoiding a trial was that it would have been difficult for many players to document and link head injuries they suffered in the N.F.L. to brain damage after their careers ended. In the settlement, the players do not have to prove any such link to be eligible for payouts of up to $5 million.

While C.T.E. has been posthumously diagnosed in hundreds of former football players, some members of the medical community continue to dispute whether there is a direct link between exposure to repeated hits to the head in games like tackle football and the development of cognitive and neurological problems later in life. Studies by scientists at Boston University and elsewhere suggest that there is a dose response — the more hits to the head, the more likely people are to develop problems later.

But researchers have questioned studies that have shown C.T.E. in a high percentage of deceased former football players, arguing that the results were skewed because research subjects were self-selected and the families of players who suspected they had brain disease were more likely to donate the players’ brains to science.