Former USC Running Back sues strength coach for allowing barbell to crush his neck

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A former University of Southern California running back is suing a onetime strength and conditioning coach for negligence for allowing a 275-pound weightlifting bar to fall on his neck.

Stafon Johnson is seeking unspecified damages in the personal injury lawsuit brought this week against USC and Jamie Yanchar, who worked for the university at the time of the incident and was a member of the Seattle Seahawks' staff in 2010.

The Los Angeles Times reports that 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 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," the Times quoted the statement as saying.

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."

The lawsuit alleges that Yanchar, acting as a spotter, "was distracted and not paying attention" to Johnson, the Times reported.

"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."

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