Lawsuit against Pop Warner over men's deaths rejected over lack of evidence

A U.S. federal court dismissed a lawsuit against Pop Warner youth football on Friday after the organization was sued over the deaths of two Southern California men.

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Kimberly Archie, of Los Angeles, and Jo Cornell, of San Diego, sought monetary damages against Pop Warner over the death of their sons. But a U.S. district court ruled that there was not enough evidence that the organization’s alleged negligence led to the deaths of their sons, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Saturday. The case was on track to go to a trial phase before its dismissal.

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Tyler Cornell, Jo Cornell's son, and Paul Bright Jr., Archie's son, died months apart from each other in 2014. Cornell died by suicide and Bright died in a motorcycle accident, according to the Union-Tribune. Both of their brains were examined and it was determined both suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, otherwise known as CTE. The degenerative brain disease is commonly found in football players who have taken too many blows to the head. Both men played youth football and in high school.

Judge Philip S. Gutierrez wrote in his ruling he didn’t see a clear cause and effect of the men playing football and the reasons behind their deaths, according to the newspaper.

“The Court cannot conclude that Plaintiffs have presented evidence to create a triable issue as to actual causal causation which is not speculative,” he wrote, adding that he didn’t see any evidence that he saw no evidence the two men saw concussions or head injuries and that a jury would have to assume that playing Pop Warner football “resulted in sufficient head impacts to cause CTE.”

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Pop Warner Executive Director Jon Butler told the San Diego Union-Tribune he expressed his condolences to the families involved but was pleased with the judge’s decision.

“While we have long held that it is not reasonable to suggest Pop Warner was responsible for the deaths of these two young men in their 20s, we empathize with the parents. We cannot imagine the pain they felt losing their sons to suicide and a motorcycle accident. It is tragic.

“We are grateful that the judge, in this case, gave great consideration to the arguments and agreed with our position.”

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Bob Finnerty, the attorney representing Archie and Cornell, told the Union-Tribune he was “disappointed” over the court not putting “much effort into it” and argued that a concussion shouldn’t be the standard for evaluating the case.

“The disappointment is the fact that the judge could not seem to understand or comprehend the simple, repetitive nature of collision sports resulting in permanent or chronic injuries,” he said. “It seems like it’s acceptable in every other sport that you can wear out a joint or overstretch ligaments, but for some reason a collision sport involving 12-year-olds is somehow different.”

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The two parents have vowed to take the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“You don’t declare a winner after the first quarter. This case isn’t dead,” Archie said.