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Stafon Johnson Sues USC, Claims Bar Was Knocked From His Hands

Patrick Crawley |
January 24, 2011 | 4:34 p.m. PST

Senior Sports Editor

Stafon Johnson joined by his lawyer, Carl Douglas, and his mother, Kim Mallory. (Patrick Crawley/Neon Tommy)
Stafon Johnson joined by his lawyer, Carl Douglas, and his mother, Kim Mallory. (Patrick Crawley/Neon Tommy)
BEVERLY HILLS -- Former Trojans running back Stafon Johnson filed a personal injury lawsuit against the University of Southern California and former assistant football coach Jamie Yanchar Monday, claiming that negligence on the part of the university, specifically Yanchar, led to his weight lifting accident in September 2009.

Johnson, whose neck was crushed when a bar holding 275 pounds of weight fell on his neck during a team workout on Sept. 28, 2009, held a press conference Monday during which his lawyer, Carl E. Douglas, claimed Yanchar was responsible for the incident.

"The spotter was there, not performing his job," Douglas said. "The lawsuit says he was distracted and that he then, in his distraction, hit the bar. 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 hands onto his neck."

Yanchar is named as a defendant, along with the university, in the lawsuit, the purpose of which is to recoup damages in excess of $25,000.

Douglas, who answered questions on Johnson's behalf after Johnson read a prepared statement, said Johnson wished no harm on the university but that justice needs to be served.

"Certainly he holds no ill will for those who helped him in his darkest hour," Douglas said. "At the same time, he does hold those that are responsible for his injuries accountable and he thinks they should be held responsible as the law allows."

Douglas, a former managing attorney for the Law Office of Johnnie Cochran, Jr. whose previous clients include Michael Jackson, Jamie Foxx and Queen Latifah, said he approached USC about settling the issue out of court but the university was not receptive about doing so. 

"There have been efforts in the past to resolve this matter quietly and informally," he said. "Regrettably, they were not successful. We were left with no other option but to file this lawsuit."

When asked why Johnson waited so long after the incident to file suit, Douglas claimed Johnson's No. 1 priority was his health. Only after talks with the school failed did he consider taking legal action.

"Stafon was first focused on getting well and recovering," Douglas said. "Suing the university was not the first thing in his mind. And once he was able to return to health and pursue his football career, then matters turned to lawyers and that's when we got involved."

Johnson's accident was one of the biggest sports stories of 2009. He was rushed to the hospital following his injury, where he underwent seven hours of surgery to repair his neck. He wasn't able to speak for nearly two months and doctors later told him he would never play football again. He overcome the obstacles, though, and was signed by the Tennessee Titans last year as an undrafted free agent.

He showed promise with the Titans but suffered a season-ending ankle injury in a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks and was forced to sit out. He is still with the team on injured reserve, according to Douglas. 

Johnson was joined at the press conference by his mother, Kim Mallory, Douglas, and attorney Drew Antablin of the law partnership Antablin & Bruce. In his statement, Johnson voiced appreciation for USC, the Trojan community and his former teammates and classmates.

"This lawsuit does not in any way reduce my love for the Cardinal and Gold," he said.

However, he remained resolute about holding Yanchar responsible for the accident.

"I was injured, and I feel that if others had been careful, this injury would have been avoided," he said.

To reach Patrick Crawley, click here. Follow him on Twitter @pecrawley.



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