Noga v. Minnesota Vikings Football Club

 Noga v. Minnesota Vikings Football Club. No. WC16-5989 (W.C.C.A. April 20, 2017)

The employee in this case, Alapati Noga, was a Minnesota Vikings player from 1998 to 1992.  Subsequent to being released by the Vikings, he played for two other NFL teams for one year each, and then played for two teams in the arena football league.

He testified that while with the Vikings as a defensive lineman he regularly used his head when tackling.  He would have headaches and a woozy feeling after games. He reported this to the trainer, and the training staff prescribed Tylenol and had him rest in the training room.

In 2001 he filed a claim for 11 separate orthopedic injuries, not including concussions or head injury.  He settled those claims in 2004 on a full, final and complete basis closing among other benefits permanent total disability and psychological treatment.

Mr. Noga’s cognitive condition continued to deteriorate.  He was awarded Social Security disability in 2009, and was accepted into the NFL player disability program. He has memory loss, loss of vision, is unable to drive and has begun showing signs of dementia.

A claim petition was filed in January, 2015 claiming seven specific head injury dates and a Gillette

injury culminating on December 1, 1992, Noga’s last day as a Viking.  Experts agreed that Noga was PTD, but split on causation.   Compensation Judge William Marshall denied the seven specific head injury claims, but awarded the Gillette injury.

The employer appealed on the grounds of (1) insufficient evidence of a Gillette injury, (2) notice defense, (3) statute of limitations defense, and (4) that the claims were closed by the 2004 full and final stipulation.   The WCCA en banc reached decision on those issues as follows:

(1)   The case was remanded to the compensation judge to provide his reasoning in specific detail supporting how specific work activities resulted in a Gillette injury to prove a  substantial contributing causal connection between Noga’s ordinary work and ensuing disability, as well as the date of disablement the judge would assign.  The Gillette finding was vacated pending the remand.

(2)   The compensation judge found the employer had actual notice of the employee’s injury to satisfy requirements of Minn. Stat. 176.141.  The notice decision was also vacated, and the WCCA requested that the compensation judge provide further consideration regarding the notice issue consistent with the remand of the Gillette injury issue.

(3)  The compensation judge found that the statute of limitations was tolled by the employer’s athletic trainer providing medical care and treatment to the employee.  The WCCA concluded the statute of limitations decision should also be vacated in light of the Gillette injury proceedings on remand.

(4)  Citing Sweep v. Hanson Silo Co. 391 NW 2d 817, 39 WCD 51 (Minn. 1986), the WCCA affirmed the compensation judge’s decision that the 2004 Stipulation did not directly bar the employee’s claims for head and brain injuries or dementia,  because those injuries were not referenced in the Stipulation.