In Noga v. Minnesota Vikings Football Club, the Minnesota Supreme Court determined former defensive lineman, Alapati “Al” Noga, did not timely bring a claim for a head injury against the Vikings and reversed an award of permanent and total disability benefits.
Noga was known for his “head-first” style of tackling. During his time with the Vikings from 1988 to 1992, Noga claims that when he experienced “wooziness” and headaches, the Vikings trainers gave him over-the-counter pain medication and rest periods to recover from head trauma sustained on the field. There was no documentation or records kept of this treatment.
Over the years, Noga noticed a decline in his mental capacity. In 2014, he was diagnosed with what the general population refers to as “dementia.” It was medically determined that Noga’s dementia was caused, in part, by playing professional football.
As a result, Noga brought a workers’ compensation claim against the Vikings in 2015. A judge found that Noga sustained a Gillette injury resulting in a brain injury/dementia in 1992, which was the last time he played for the Vikings and awarded permanent and total disability benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals affirmed in a 3-2 decision.
On appeal, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed and held that Noga’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations found in Minn. Stat. § 176.151. Noga had notice of a brain injury in 2004, when a medical report discussing Noga’s neurological issues, including concussions, headaches, and “blackouts” from playing football, was filed with a stipulation on a different workers’ compensation settlement with the Vikings for orthopedic injuries. The Court determined that the six-year statute of limitations under Minn. Stat. § 176.151 began to run at that time and expired in 2010, about five years before Noga filed a claim petition for the brain injury.
The Noga Court clarified that the care provided by the Vikings was not a “proceeding” that would “toll” or satisfy the statute of limitations. Specifically, the Court wrote that a proceeding “must arise out of the employer’s awareness of an obligation for the benefits provided.” There was no evidence that the Vikings knew or should have known back in the late 1980s/early 1990s that Noga’s symptoms would cause a brain injury/dementia. Since there was no exception to the statute of limitations, the Court determined Noga’s claim was barred and he was not entitled to benefits.