Stafon Johnson files suit against USC
BEVERLY HILLS -- Former University of Southern California tailback Stafon Johnson filed a lawsuit against the university in Los Angeles County Superior Court Monday, alleging negligence on behalf of former assistant strength coach Jamie Yanchar and the school in relation to the September 2009 weightlifting accident that threatened Johnson's life and football career.
Johnson was injured during mandatory team weightlifting workouts at approximately 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 28, 2009, two days after a USC home win over Washington State. Initial reports from the incident implied that Johnson's hands slipped and lost control of a bar while bench-pressing 275 pounds, causing the bar to drop and land on his neck and throat, but Johnson's lawyer, Carl Douglas, said that was not accurate.
"What we say occurred is that the bar was basically knocked out of his hand, causing it to fall on Stafon's neck, almost causing him to die," Douglas said at a news conference Monday afternoon. "We think for that, those that are responsible should be held responsible for their actions."
Johnson, his mother Kim Mallory and his Beverly Hills-based attorneys held a news conference Monday afternoon, with Johnson reading from a prepared statement and Douglas and Mallory answering questions from the assembled media. The lawsuit was filed earlier Monday.
Seeking unspecified damages for medical-related expenses, pain and suffering and loss of future earnings exceeding $25,000, the lawsuit alleges that Yanchar was distracted and not paying attention to Johnson at the time of the incident and thus "failed to take notice that, as the bar was being lifted from the rack, Johnson was not then ready to take hold of and lift the bar." It also alleges that Yanchar, then in his 19th year at USC, was "negligently and carelessly inattentive" to properly placing the bar into Johnson's hands and instead paying attention toward one or more other members of the football team who were not then engaging in weightlifting activities.
Read the lawsuit: "Defendant Yanchar's negligent, careless and reckless act and omission, in striking the bar with his body, was something that Mr. Johnson was not expecting to occur and he was therefore unprepared for the bar to be knocked off balance."
Johnson underwent several surgeries and therapy for his injuries stemming from the accident.
Yanchar spent last season with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, where he worked under former USC head football coach Pete Carroll. He was hired two weeks after Carroll left for the Seahawks, in January 2010, passing up his position as interim head strength coach at USC.
"USC firmly believes it was not at fault in Stafon Johnson's unfortunate weightlifting accident," USC said in a statement released Monday afternoon. "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."
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Johnson, who spoke for a little more than five minutes, thanked fans across the world and former teammates for their wide-reaching support in the wake of the accident. He echoed Douglas in saying that he hoped those responsible for the accident would be held responsible in court but said he harbored no ill will toward USC.
"This lawsuit does not in any way reduce my love for the cardinal and gold," Johnson said Monday. "I was injured, and I feel that if others had been careful, this injury would have been avoided."
Douglas declined to say when Johnson had retained him, although he did say he had attempted to work with the university "many months ago" to reach a settlement.
"As you could imagine, there have been efforts in the past to resolve this matter quietly and informally," Douglas said. "Regrettably, they were not successful, so we were left with no other option but to file this lawsuit."
Pedro Moura covers colleges for ESPNLosAngeles.com.