Family of Crossing Guard Janet Gould, 80, Is Suing Lyft Driver Who Critically Injured Her

Janet Gould
Janet Gould

The family of veteran Chicago crossing guard Janet Gould, 80, is suing the ride-share driver who critically injured her earlier this month when she was helping children across the street in Andersonville.

Gould has worked as a crossing guard for 34 years and was one of the most senior guards in the city, according to attorney Francis Patrick Murphy from the personal injury firm Corboy & Demetrio, which is representing the family. On Monday, January 8, at around 2:30 p.m., Gould was in the crosswalk on the south leg of the Bryn Mawr/Clark intersection, positioned in the southbound lanes of traffic, as she escorted students who were walking west from nearby Peirce School of International Studies. She was facing southbound.

According to Murphy, Lyft driver Mohammadsalim Vhora, 28, was driving westbound on Bryn Mawr with a passenger when he made a left turn, striking Gould from behind. She suffered a laceration to the back of the head and bleeding on the brain.

Gould was transported to Evanston Hospital in a coma and placed on a ventilator, Murphy said. By January 10 she had regained consciousness and her family said that she was making steady progress towards recovery, WGN reported. She has since been transferred to Holy Family Medical Center in Des Plaines.

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

Gould’s employer, the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications issued a statement referring to the crash as a “tragic accident.” It’s worth noting that Chicago’s Vision Zero plan, released last fall with participation from OEMC, includes as one its core principles the assertion that “A traffic crash is not an ‘accident,’ but a predictable and preventable occurrence.” This principle is even advertised on city bus shelters and information signs.

Vhora, who so far has only received a ticket for failure to yield to a pedestrian in the roadway, told responding officers that he didn’t see Gould because the sun was in his eyes. “How is that possible?” the crossing guard’s granddaughter Marina Chestnut said to NBC, noting that Gould always wore a reflective vest at work. She called the light penalty for the driver an “injustice.”

Murphy added that Gould was also carrying a stop sign at the time, and that the crosswalks at that intersection have an eye-catching red brick design. In addition, the attorney said, Vhora’s passenger, a 54-year-old man, reported that he saw the crossing guard and yelled “Stop, stop, stop!” prior to the collision. The attorney said it looks like the Cook County state’s attorney’s office may upgrade the charges against the motorist.

“The cardinal rule that you learn in driving school is that you have to yield to pedestrians,” Murphy said. “There’s no way that Janet wasn’t visible unless [Vhora] wasn’t paying attention.”

The intersection from the driver's perspective. Image: Google Street View
The intersection from the driver’s perspective. Image: Google Street View

A silver lining to this heartbreaking case is that, due to the circumstances of the crash, it’s more likely that Gould and her family will get fair compensation. Since she was working at the time, all of her medical expenses will be covered by worker’s compensation, Murphy said.

In addition, the attorney said, the laws are such that if Vhora had been driving without a passenger when he struck the crossing guard, the crash would have only been covered by his personal car insurance, which would only pay out $25,000. However, since he had a fare, he’s covered by Lyft’s policy, which pays out up to $1 million. “So the situation is so much better for Janet than if he had no one in the car.”

Among the damages the family is seeking to recover is the loss of consortium for Gould’s husband John, 84, who also works as a crossing guard. “They used to meet up at a coffee shop every day after work,” Murphy said. “When Janet didn’t show up that afternoon, John knew something was wrong.”

Vhora will have a hearing in traffic court at the Daley Center, 50 West Washington, on Thursday, March 8, at 9 a.m.