MINNESOTA laws might limit Vikings' liability

Monday, August 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ The Minnesota Vikings probably would not be found liable in a lawsuit over Korey Stringer's death, said several area attorneys and experts in Minnesota employment law.

The Vikings would have to be found guilty of negligence or to have inflicted intentional harm, according to Minnesota state worker's compensation laws that protect employers from liability.

Stringer, who died Wednesday morning, is the first player in NFL history to die from heatstroke. Heatstroke has killed 19 football players since 1995, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research in Chapel Hill, N.C.

``There are teams that have been practicing in hot weather for 50 years, so it's not a clear danger,'' said Andy Tanick, an attorney who specializes in labor and employment law for Rider, Bennett, Egan and Arundel of Minneapolis. ``And the heat has been hard in the past on Korey Stringer.''

Several attorneys agreed with Tanick, saying they believed negligence would be nearly impossible to prove. At most, they said the Stringer family could pursue a lawsuit against a third party such as the NFL.

Joseph Daly, a professor of law at Hamline University in St. Paul, disagreed.

``I think the Vikings could be found negligent,'' said Daly, who has acted as a labor arbitrator for the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. ``Knowing he was throwing up the day before, they very well may have been negligent to allow him to come back the next day.''

Stringer was carted from practice after vomiting Monday, the Vikings' first day of practice. Reports that Stringer vomited three times during practice Tuesday morning _ his final practice before he died Wednesday morning _ have been called into question by Mike Tice, the Vikings' offensive line coach. Tice said none of the Vikings' linemen saw Stringer vomit three times, but he did not address questions about whether Stringer had vomited at all. Tice also said he saw no reason to give Stringer a break during Tuesday's practice.

``I didn't, because it didn't look like he needed one,'' Tice said. ``He didn't look like he needed water. He looked good when we looked at (the practice) on film, too. He had a fantastic practice.''

The state office of Occupational Safety and Health began an investigation into Stringer's death _ which is routine for any job-related death _ by sending two investigators Wednesday to the Vikings' training camp in Mankato. The investigation is expected to last more than a month, according to OSHA spokesman James Honerman.

Fred Zamberletti, a member of the Vikings' medical staff during their entire 40-year history, said he was confident everything possible was done to save Stringer's life.

``The paramedics thanked us and said they appreciated the work we had done here,'' Zamberletti said. ``The doctors were absolutely tremendous. Nothing could have been done better.''

Stringer received treatment sooner than he might have in past seasons, Zamberletti said, because of a medical trailer that had been placed near one end of the practice field for the first time. The trailer was put there because of construction at the normal Vikings' medical facility.

Minnesota worker's compensation laws protect workers from employers who might use their wealth to deny benefits, but they also protect employers from having to pay against potential future earnings.

A surviving spouse with a child can receive more than two-thirds of the employee's pay, but the amount is capped. Stringer's widow, Kelci, who has a 3-year-old son Kodie, will receive $750 a week for about the next 30 years and the state will pay $15,000 toward burial costs.

Kelci Stringer also will receive up to $725,000 of Korey Stringer's salary, plus a severance payment and benefits from life insurance, annuities, 401(k) and the NFL Players Association retirement fund.