USC and Stafon Johnson settle lawsuit

LOS ANGELES -- Former USC running back Stafon Johnson's lawsuit against the school and a former employee alleging negligence in the weight room has been settled, USC announced Wednesday.

Johnson, a two-year starter for the Trojans now with the NFL's Washington Redskins, sued the school in January 2011 for unspecified damages greater than $25,000 after a September 2009 weightlifting accident nearly cost him his life and forced him to undergo several emergency surgeries.

"The University of Southern California and former student-athlete Stafon Johnson wish to jointly announce that Mr. Johnson has resolved his lawsuit against the university arising out of his September 28, 2009 weight room injury," the school said. "The parties have agreed that the terms and details will be confidential."

In the lawsuit, Johnson alleged that former USC assistant strength and conditioning coach Jamie Yanchar was "negligently and carelessly inattentive" in placing a bench-press bar back into the player's hands after an exercise, causing the bar to fall on Johnson and rupture his larynx.

Complicating the case was a waiver of liability agreement Johnson signed before the accident occurred, as all university student-athletes do each year. Lawyers representing USC pushed for the case to be dismissed on those grounds.

A hearing in the case had been scheduled for Wednesday, but USC's lawyers filed the settlement papers in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, City News Service reported.

The purpose of the hearing was to make a ruling on a motion by the school's defense attorneys -- submitted last October -- to dismiss the case on the grounds that Johnson was required to assume the inherent risks in weightlifting when he agreed to participate.

Johnson and lawyer Carl Douglas claimed in the suit and in a news conference accompanying its filing that Yanchar, then in his 19th year at USC, was not paying attention to Johnson while serving as his spotter and instead focusing on other members of the team, safeties Will Harris and Taylor Mays.

Then, while Johnson was starting a set, Yanchar inadvertently came in contact with the 275-pound barbell, Johnson's side said.

"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 in the news conference at his Beverly Hills office. "We think for that, those that are responsible should be held responsible for their actions."

Johnson, now 23, declared for the 2010 NFL draft after recovering from the injury but went unselected. He signed with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent but dislocated his ankle in a preseason game and spent his rookie season on injured reserve.

Johnson was cut by the Titans in September 2011 after going through his second training camp with the team. He was then signed by the Redskins to their eight-man practice squad prior to Week 17 when Ryan Torain was released.

At the time the suit was filed, Johnson made a point of thanking USC fans and staffers for their help and support in his recovery process, saying, "This lawsuit does not in any way reduce my love for the cardinal and gold."

But USC said it was "disappointed" in a statement released the day the suit was filed.

"USC firmly believes it was not at fault in Stafon Johnson's unfortunate weightlifting accident," the school said. "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 now works as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks under former USC coach Pete Carroll.

Douglas previously worked as a defense attorney in the O.J. Simpson murder case and on behalf of Elgin Baylor in his lawsuit against the Los Angeles Clippers, among many other cases.

He did not return a call or a message left with a clerk at his Beverly Hills office on Wednesday afternoon. Johnson's mother, Kim Mallory, similarly did not respond to a request for comment.

Pedro Moura covers colleges for ESPNLosAngeles.com.