A USC strength and conditioning coach negligently caused a weightlifting bar carrying 275 pounds to fall on the neck of Stafon Johnson, the former Trojans running back alleges in a personal-injury lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Johnson seeks unspecified damages from USC and Jamie Yanchar, who worked for USC at the time of the incident and was a member of the Seattle Seahawks' staff in 2010.
Johnson was injured during an on-campus training session on Sept. 28, 2009, and underwent multiple surgeries to repair damage from near-fatal neck and throat injuries. Sidelined for the remainder of the 2009 season, he was signed as a free agent by the Tennessee Titans after the 2010 NFL draft. Johnson suffered a season-ending ankle injury during an exhibition last summer and was put on injured reserve by the Titans.
"There have been efforts in the past to resolve this matter quietly and informally," Carl Douglas, an attorney representing Johnson, said during a news conference in Beverly Hills announcing the filing of the suit. "Regrettably, they were not successful, so we were left with no other option but to file this lawsuit."
USC, in a statement issued after the news conference, said that it "firmly believes it was not at fault in Stafon Johnson's unfortunate weightlifting accident. We are sorry that Stafon was injured. USC and the entire Trojan Family have been exceptionally supportive of Stafon from the minute the accident occurred. We are disappointed to learn that Stafon has decided to file a lawsuit against USC."
Yanchar could not be reached for comment. A message left for him with a Seahawks spokesman was not returned.
Johnson read from a prepared statement but did not take questions during the news conference.
Johnson was taking his turn on the bench press, he said, when "something very unexpectedly happened. The bar actually was hit. It fell on my neck from there."
The pain, he added, "was horrific — something that you can never really explain … the only thing you know is it felt as if you were closer and closer to death."
But, he noted, "This lawsuit does not in any way reduce my love for the cardinal and gold."
The lawsuit alleges that Yanchar, acting as a spotter, "was distracted and not paying attention" to Johnson.
"Because he was negligently and carelessly inattentive to properly placing the bar into Mr. Johnson's hands and making sure that Mr. Johnson was ready for the bar to be placed into his hands," the suit alleges, "Defendant Yanchar hit the bar with his own body before Mr. Johnson had a grip on the bar with both hands."
Said Douglas: "I don't think he did it on purpose — it was an accident. But still he was responsible for the bar falling from Stafon's hand onto his neck."