Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “What exactly is a wrongful death claim?”
Joseph Chernach started playing in a Pop Warner football league in 1997, when he was eleven-years-old. By the time he stopped playing three years later, his brain had been so badly damaged by repetitive trauma that as a young man, he developed a form of dementia only normally seen in much older adults.
Chernach’s troubles began during his sophomore year at Central Michigan University. His mother, Debra Pyka, told the Daily Mail that Chernach’s behavior began to grow “increasingly bizarre.” Eventually, he stopped attending university classes and began living with his brother and some friends.
“He just could not stay in one place at once,” Pyka said. Chernach became moody, paranoid and distrustful even of close friends and family. On June 6, 2012, he committed suicide in his mother’s shed. An autopsy revealed that Chernach had suffered from a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy and post-concussion syndrome.
Following Chernach’s death, Pyka brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the organizer of the youth football leagues where she claims her son sustained his brain injuries.
Sheboygan, Wisconsin attorney Gordon Johnson told the Daily Mail that Chernach’s condition was comparable to “the worst form of dementia seen in older football players.”
Johnson said the only thing that could have caused the dementia in a person as young as Chernach was repetitive head trauma. “The only repetitive head trauma Joseph Chernach had was from playing football,” Johnson said.
Pop Warner football programs are run by Pop Warner Little Scholars, a Langhorne, Pennsylvania nonprofit organization named after legendary football coach Glenn Scobey “Pop” Warner. The Pop Warner foundation organizes and facilitates football programs for children ages five to sixteen throughout the United States.
According to Pyka, the “sponsoring, organizing and promoting [of] tackle football for children [is]… outrageous, malicious, intentional” and done with intentional disregard for the well-being of children football players.
In the lawsuit, Pyka alleges that Pop Warner failed to warn Chernach and other players and their parents about the risks associated with playing tackle football. The lawsuit alleges that football is an “ultrahazardous activity” that is especially dangerous for children.
While Johnson conceded that Chernach had also played football in high school, he said that during the years in which Chernach played Pop Warner, his brain was particularly vulnerable to injury.
Johnson said Chernach’s suicide was the “natural and probable consequence” of brain damage that he suffered while playing football. He does not think Chernach’s case is isolated, and that there may have been hundreds of other suicides caused by brain injuries brought on by football. Had autopsies been done in those cases, Johnson said, they “would have pointed the finger at youth football.”
Johnson said he believes the Chernach case is the first in Wisconsin brought against Pop Warner for alleged brain injuries sustained as a result of playing football. He believes many more may follow.
Pyka wants Pop Warner held responsible for her son’s death, but she also wants to ban youth tackle football. “They should not be banging their brains together,” she told the Daily Mail.
If you or someone you know has any questions regarding potential personal injury claims, feel free to contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC in Charlotte, North Carolina for a free consultation. Call toll free at (955) 370-2828 or click here for additional resources.
About the Author
Matthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.
Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.
A board-certified specialist in the practice of Family Law, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state courts in North Carolina, in the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.
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