Workers' Compensation Court of Appeals Office of
Wilson, Minneapolis, Minnesota,
Raymond R. Peterson, McCoy Peterson, Ltd., Minneapolis,
Minnesota; and John Lorentz, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for
respondent Alapati Noga.
Douglas J. Brown, Penny F. Helgren, Brown & Carlson,
P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for relators.
employee did not meet his burden to show that the
employer-provided medical treatment was an acceptance of
responsibility for the employee's later-diagnosed
Gillette injury, and thus did not demonstrate that a
"proceeding" occurred that satisfied the statute of
limitations under Minn. Stat. § 176.151 (2018).
case involves the 2015 workers' compensation claim for
benefits filed by Alapati Noga, a former defensive lineman
for the Minnesota Vikings from 1988 until 1992, who now
suffers from dementia. Before us are three issues related to
Noga's workers' compensation claim against the
Vikings: whether Noga sustained a compensable
Gillette injury,  whether the Vikings and its insurer
received adequate notice of the injury, and whether Noga
satisfied the statute of limitations.
compensation judge determined that Noga was entitled to
permanent and total disability benefits. The Vikings and its
insurer appealed, and the Workers' Compensation Court of
Appeals (WCCA) vacated certain findings and remanded several
issues relevant to those now before our court. On remand, the
compensation judge resolved those issues in Noga's favor,
determining that: (1) Noga sustained a Gillette
injury to the head that culminated around his last day with
the Vikings on December 1, 1992; (2) Noga should have known
of the nature, seriousness, and probable compensable nature
of his injury in 2004, and the Vikings and its insurer
received adequate notice of his injury under Minn. Stat.
§ 176.141 (2018) in 2004; and (3) the statute of
limitations was satisfied under Minn. Stat. § 176.151
(2018) because the Vikings provided Noga with medical care
that constituted a "proceeding." The Vikings
appealed again to the WCCA, and the WCCA affirmed. The
Vikings appealed to our court. Because we conclude that Noga
did not satisfy the statute of limitations under Minn. Stat.
§ 176.151, we reverse the Workers' Compensation
Court of Appeals.
Noga was born in September 1965 in American Samoa and moved
to Hawaii in 1969. Noga began playing football seriously in
the ninth grade and played the position of defensive lineman
throughout high school. He suffered at that time from what he
called "headaches" because of his
"violent" head-first style of playing. Throughout
college, Noga continued playing as a defensive lineman with
the same head-first style of play, but "[i]t got
he completed his college degree, Noga was drafted by the
Minnesota Vikings in the third round of the 1988 National
Football League (NFL) draft. Noga played as a defensive
lineman for the Vikings from 1988 until December 1, 1992.
Noga continued his head-first style of tackling other
players, a style of play that was then allowed by the NFL.
playing for the Vikings, Noga sustained a number of
orthopedic injuries that kept him from playing games
periodically, and also experienced head injuries and
headaches. On occasions when Noga had a headache after
sustaining a hit, he would talk to the team trainers and
doctors, who would dispense Advil and Tylenol for his
the compensation judge, Noga testified that there was no way
to keep his orthopedic injuries from the Vikings. But,
regarding his head injuries, Noga "didn't want to
tell [Vikings staff] too much" because staff
sometimes told him "you're always hurting."
Noga testified that those statements made him feel that he
should keep the head injuries to himself if he wanted to
continue playing in the NFL.
when he experienced headaches and wooziness following a hit,
Noga continued playing. Noga was "never taken out of the
game right away" if he told the Vikings staff that he
was feeling woozy from a hit or a play. When asked why he
would continue playing if he was feeling woozy, Noga
testified "[w]hen I t[old] the doctors I'm not
feeling well . . . I was told fight through it, it's my
job, that's what they pay me for. I'll try my best to
fight through it."
Vikings' training records do not contain entries of any
treatment for headaches or otherwise show that the Vikings
staff provided Advil or Tylenol to Noga. The training records
only mention Noga's orthopedic injuries. The training
records do, however, contain a notation that on September 1,
1990, Noga "did not report for conditioning" and
that he left a note stating that he "had a
last day for the Vikings was December 1, 1992. He went on to
play for the Washington Redskins for the 1993 season. While
playing for Washington, he sustained more hits to his head.
Noga's end-of season physical in January 1994 showed no
history of head injuries but listed various orthopedic
injuries. Washington released Noga after one season. Part-way
through the 1994 season, Noga began playing for the
Indianapolis Colts, but his contract was not renewed.
the course of his NFL career, Noga played in 73 games over
five seasons for the Vikings,  16 games for Washington, and 4
games for Indianapolis. Noga went on to play professional
football in the Arena League until 1999.
2001, Noga filed a claim petition for workers'
compensation benefits regarding various orthopedic injuries
he suffered while playing for the Vikings. In connection with
this claim, Noga was examined by Dr. William Fruean in 2003.
In February 2004, Dr. Fruean wrote a report summarizing
Noga's medical problems, which Noga attributed to
"injuries while he was playing football for the
Minnesota Vikings." Dr. Fruean listed 10 orthopedic
issues and 2 neurological issues: "Blackout episodes
from concussions from football injuries" and
"Headaches episodes, from football injuries." Dr.
Fruean also stated that Noga "needed to be evaluated by
a neurologist for his blackout and headaches problems."
Noga's 2001 claim was settled, and an Award on
Stipulation, to which Fruean's report was attached, was
filed in March 2004.
applied for social security disability benefits related to
his "[b]ack, lower body, shoulders, and fingers" in
September 2007. Although his claim was initially denied, Noga
was diagnosed as legally blind in November 2008. On the basis
of that diagnosis, in February 2009, the Social Security
Administration determined that Noga met the medical
requirements for disability benefits and that "[t]he
onset of [Noga's] disability [was] . . . November 17,
general, Noga's medical and therapy records indicate
numerous ongoing health problems, including chronic gout
flare-ups, ongoing orthopedic issues, chronic pain, sporadic
illicit drug abuse, sleep apnea, depression, legal blindness,
and neurological issues. Noga saw multiple psychologists to
address some of the mental health and neurological issues he
was experiencing, including Dr. Gayle Hostetter and Dr. Laila
January 2011, after an extensive neuropsychological
evaluation, Dr. Hostetter concluded that "Noga's
general intellectual functioning shows a general decline from
previous functioning, with extremely low verbal memory and
problem solving/ organization, meeting the diagnosis for . .
. dementia." Regarding causation, Dr. Hostetter
indicated that "Noga's performance does not clearly
indicate etiology, although multiple head trauma certainly is
indicated as an important factor." Finally, Dr.
Hostetter observed that "other contributing factors,
such as ...