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Former University of Southern California (“USC”) running back Stafon Johnson filed suit against USC and a former strength and conditioning coach (Jamie Yanchar) relating to the injury he suffered while performing bench presses in September 2009. As many may recall, Johnson was working out in the USC weight room with the football team and bench pressing 275 lbs when the bar slipped from his hands and crushed his neck. It was initially explained that the bar simply rolled out of Johnson’s hands, but Johnson has a different story and explains the same in his lawsuit.
Johnson indicates that Yanchar (now a strength and conditioning coach for the Seattle Seahawks) was spotting him while he was performing bench presses and became distracted. According to Johnson, Yanchar physically hit the bar while Johnson was steadying the weight. The contact with the bar caused Johnson to lose control of the weight and it fell directly on Johnson’s neck resulting in his voice box being crushed, which caused a laryngeal fracture and an acute airway obstruction. Johnson was required to endure several surgeries and rehabilitation to correct the damage to his neck and throat.
In his lawsuit, Johnson claims that Yanchar was negligent and reckless for failing to responsibly supervise the activities under his charge. Being that Yanchar was an employee of USC, Johnson seeks to hold USC vicariously liable for the acts of its servant, Yanchar. In order to recover against either party, Johnson must show that Yanchar and/or USC owed him a duty, they breached the duty, and such breach resulted in harm to Johnson. Johnson claims Yanchar engaged in the following negligent, careless, and reckless acts and omissions:
1. Yanchar was distracted and was not paying attention to Johnson at the time the bar was being lifted from the weight rack and, thus, his failure to pay proper attention created a significant and increased risk to Johnson.
2. Yanchar was distracted and was not paying attention to Johnson, he failed to take notice that the bar was being lifted from the weight rack, and failed to notice that Johnson was not then ready to take hold of and lift the bar.
3. Yanchar was negligently and carelessly inattentive when the bar was being placed in Johnson’s hands and Yanchar hit the bar with his body before Johnson had a grip on the bar with both of his hands.
4. Yanchar actively interfered with Johnson’s weight lifting and essentially knocked the bar out of Johnson’s hands and onto his neck, which substantially increased the risk of harm in performing a bench press.
Johnson seeks unspecified sums of money and seeks recovery of damages for past medical expenses, future medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of earnings, and loss of earning capacity. Johnson recently met with the press along with his mother and counsel Carl E. Douglas (a former colleague of the late and great Johnnie Cochran) and indicated he has attempted to resolve the issue quietly, but the parties could not come to an agreement and Johnson was “left with no other option but to file this lawsuit.” USC was quoted as saying “USC firmly believes it was not at fault in Stafon Johnson’s unfortunate weightlifting accident…We are disappointed to learn that Stafon has decided to file a lawsuit against USC.”