Pop Warner Youth Football League Settles First Concussion-Related Lawsuit

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WATCH Youth Football League Settles Concussion Lawsuit

The Pop Warner youth football league has settled its first concussion-related lawsuit.

The suit was filed in Wisconsin federal court in February 2015 by the mother of 25-year-old Joseph Chernach. Chernach played in Michigan for Pop Warner -- the largest youth football league in the United States – for four years starting when he was 11.

He committed suicide on June 7, 2012, and was later diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.

CTE has been found mostly in athletes who play contact sports, such as football. The issue has become a significant concern for professional and youth athletes.

Chernach’s mother, Debbie Pyka, described seeing a sudden change in her son during his time in college.

“I just couldn’t understand why a happy kid turned into someone so depressed,” she said in an interview with ABC News last year.

The family sued Pop Warner for $5 million. The lawsuit claimed Pop Warner failed to properly train coaches, use the “safest helmets” or “enforce limitations on hitting in practice.”

The suit also claimed Pop Warner’s conduct was “deliberate, an actual disregard of the plaintiff’s right to safety, health or life....”

It is not clear when the suit was settled or for how much. Citing confidentiality agreements, the Chernach family declined to comment to ABC News.

In an interview with ABC News last year, the family’s lawyer, Gordon Johnson, said: “Pop Warner allows children who still have to sit in the backseat of a car to play tackle football with helmets -- that is the problem.”

Johnson added: "We just want to children to play. We don’t want children to engage in combat."

ABC News legal expert Dan Abrams said the settlement was “entirely a financial decision by Pop Warner" and said it could "encourage other parents to file suit against Pop Warner or others.”

In a statement to ABC News, Pop Warner wrote that it was committed to the safety of its players and had led the way in making the youth football safer.

"We have established protocols and rule changes aimed at improving coaching education, limiting contact and requiring any player who suffers a potential head injury to be examined by a medical professional trained in concussions before returning to play. Combined with our coaches education through Heads Up Football, we are focused on making this game accessible and safer for those who love football," the statement added.

In 2010, Pop Warner began benching any player suspected of having a concussion and not allowing him or her to play until he or she is cleared by a doctor.

In 2013, the league put limits on contact during practices. The rule changes prohibit full speed head-on blocking or tackling drills in which players are lined up more than three yards apart. The amount of contact allowed at each practice was reduced to a maximum of one-third of the practice time.