This week, former University of Southern California tailback Stafon Johnson filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleging negligence on behalf of former assistant strength coach Jamie Yanchar and the university in relation to the September 2009 weightlifting accident that threatened Johnson's football career and life.
Johnson was injured during mandatory team weightlifting workouts. Since all of the facts are still being determined, it is impossible to tell yet if USC was negligent in the accident. The initial report filed by the university claimed that Johnson's hands slipped, causing the bar to drop and land on his neck and throat. If that is the case, Johnson will have a hard time showing that the university was negligent and that Johnson did not assume the risk of such an injury. Johnson's lawyer, however, claims that Yanchar carelessly struck the bar with his body. This act, Johnson claims, knocked the bar off balance and out of his hands, causing it to fall.
Again, until the court can determine the facts, it is impossible to speculate whether the university will ultimately be responsible for the unspecified damages Johnson is seeking. What is clear, however, is that when an athlete like Johnson is injured, the exposure to the university is much greater than if you or I suffered a similar injury. For example, Johnson has sued for medical expenses, and pain and suffering, all standard damages in a negligence lawsuit. That being said, what potentially makes this lawsuit very expensive for USC is Johnson's loss-of-future-earnings claim. If Johnson can show that he would have played in the National Football League but for the accident, his loss of earnings could be in the tens of millions of dollars.
This case, therefore, is a good example of why you need to be careful who you injure. In fact, the potential damage award is probably one of the main reasons this lawsuit was even filed. If the only financial exposure the university faced was medical expenses, it probably would have settled long ago.