Noga v. Minnesota Vikings Football Club

Noga v. Minnesota Vikings Football Club, No.WC186133, W.C.C.A. September 19, 2018

The Employee was a defensive lineman who played with the Minnesota Vikings from 1988 to 1992.  In 1993, 1994 the Employee played a season and a half with other NFL teams.  He played in the Arena Football League from 1994 to 1998.  The Employee claimed a Gillette head injury as a result of this employment with a Claim Petition filed on January 20, 2015.

Notably, the Employee had previously settled a workers’ compensation claim against the Minnesota Vikings in 2004 wherein he claimed multiple orthopedic issues.  Attached to that Stipulation for Settlement was a medical report noting that the Employee had suffered concussions and headaches as a result of his employment and recommending the Employee see a neurologist.  By 2009 the Employee was receiving Social Security Disability for memory and vision loss as well as increasing blackout syndrome and signs of dementia.  By 2014 the Employee was assessed by a neuropsychologist who found that the Employee had suffered from dementia and had 86.5% permanent partial disability, which was attributable to his football career as well as alcohol and drug abuse and mental health problems.

The matter was tried in front of a Compensation judge who found that the Employee suffered a Gillette injury, that the Employer had notice of this Gillette injury as of the 2004 Stipulation for Settlement, and that the statute of limitations was not tolled as the Employee had received medical treatment from trainers in the locker room from 1988 to 1992.  On first appeal, the W.C.C.A. reversed and remanded these decisions demanding additional facts on the record.

At the second hearing, the Employee further supported the alleged Gillette injury by having a specific finding from his physician that employment with the Minnesota Vikings was a substantial contributing factor to the Employee’s dementia.  Specifically, that multiple concussions, layered on top of each other, was a substantial causal mechanism.  The Compensation judge subsequently found again that the statute of limitations was tolled and that notice was correctly provided.

On the second appeal, the W.C.C.A. heard the case en banc, and affirmed the compensation judge’s Findings and Order.  Notably, however, two judges dissented from the decision.

All judges agreed that the compensation judge had substantial evidence to find that the Employee had suffered a Gillette injury as a result of his activities as a professional football player with the Minnesota Vikings.  However, the judges disagreed on whether the Minnesota Vikings were provided appropriate notice and whether the statute of limitations was tolled in this matter.

The majority opinion found that notice was provided in a timely manner by the Employee at the time of the 2004 Stipulation for Settlement. Specifically, notice was provided by medical note attached to the stipulation suggesting the Employee had suffered from concussions.  The court felt that this was the first time both the Employee and the Employer had notice of the condition and therefore notice was timely and within 180 days that the Employee should have been aware of his condition.

With respect to the statute of limitations, the majority opinion found that medical treatment by the Minnesota Vikings in the locker room by their trainers constituted a “preceding” which necessarily tolled the statute of limitations.

The dissent in this matter disagreed with the majority opinion on both notice and statute of limitation grounds.  With respect to notice, the dissenters asserted that just because this medical report was attached to the Stipulation for Settlement, does not mean that it was ever provided to the Employer as the statute only requires that the insurer be provided with the entire Stipulation for Settlement and exhibits.  Perhaps more importantly, the dissenters had a number of grounds for disagreeing on the statute of limitations position.  First of all, the medical treatment alleged to have been received by the Employee was simply Tylenol and Ibuprofen and rest.  According to the dissenters, this was not sufficient to give rise to a “proceeding.”  Secondly, the Court found that the statute of limitations was tolled before the injury even occurred in this matter.  This would be a situation where knowledge of a disabling injury would have been impossible at the time the statute of limitations was allegedly tolled.