Retired NFL players that suffer lingering damage due to head injuries received a setback in court in July 2019. A ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court denied workers’ compensation benefits to Al Noga, a former defensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings. The basis on which the Al Noga concussion lawsuit was ruled will almost certainly have ripple effects moving forward.
Noga played for the Vikings during the late 1980s and early 1990s. He frequently reported headaches to the training staff but was often told that he was always hurt. The Viking medical staff still gave Noga over-the-counter medications to treat the headaches. Today, Noga suffers from dementia and his doctors believe it can be traced to injuries sustained during his time on the Minnesota football team.
A compensation judge had previously ruled in Noga’s favor and that ruling was affirmed by the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals. But the Viking front office appealed and won. The key to the team’s legal victory was how the court interpreted the statute of limitations in light of the standard of care the team provided for Noga.
On the surface, the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit for a work-related injury had indeed passed. Noga’s attorneys argued, however, that because the Vikings had given over-the-counter meds to the defensive tackle, they had waived the statute of limitations by acknowledging his injuries. It was that basis that handed the Noga team their initial legal victories.
But the Supreme Court came down on the side of the franchise. The basis, the Supreme Court ruled, was that over-the-counter meds were a perfectly acceptable way to treat chronic headaches in the late 1980s/early 1990s. The connection of these headaches to long-term effects like dementia was not established then, hence the team could not be responsible. Ergo, the statute of limitations on Noga’s window of opportunity had indeed expired.
With the extensive knowledge of concussions and protocols that exist today, current players are unlikely to suffer Noga’s fate. But players from his generation, who may be starting to see the negative effects of their injuries while the “play in pain” ethos existed, may be out of luck.
If you suffered a workplace injury, make sure you follow the proper legal protocols to receive benefits.