Lawsuit in Nadia Malik’s death ends in $10 million judgment against boyfriend
Nadia Malik was found dead under still-unexplained circumstances in 2014.
For 10 maddening days in 2014, Nadia Malik was missing from her home in Broomall, Delaware County. Then, on a lonely side street in University City, she was found.
The discovery was as sudden and blinding as her disappearance, her body slumped in the passenger seat of an abandoned car covered in snow and papered with parking tickets.
The mystery of Malik's death has only deepened in the intervening years. Investigators still don't even know how the 22-year-old died. There were no visible signs of trauma to her body, and after an autopsy, the city medical examiner listed the cause of death as undetermined.
In 2016, Malik's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Bhupinder Singh, Malik's longtime boyfriend, the father of her children, and the person she was last seen with before her death. Singh has long been the focus of the family's suspicions: It was his father's car Malik was found in, and he admitted to police that he had sent bizarre, threatening text messages to Malik's family as they searched for her. One message taunted the family, saying they would never find Malik without meeting his demands for money.
In the lawsuit, the family contended that Singh was responsible for Malik's death. They said he "intentionally harmed [her] and left her dead or near-dead" in the car, abandoning her without her identification, cell phone, or even the keys for the vehicle.
The family hoped the legal action would finally compel Singh to talk, to address the burning questions of how Malik spent her final hours. Those answers never came.
Singh, 30, didn't respond to the lawsuit. He didn't even hire a lawyer to represent him. That absence left unchallenged the suit's disturbing suggestion that he played a role in the death of the mother of his children.
Finally, in July, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge issued a default judgment and ordered Singh to pay the Malik family $10 million, damages they had sought to offset the emotional hardship and financial strain Malik's death had caused.
To them, it's a hollow victory, and they have little hope of ever collecting the money. Anything they do receive will go to the couple's 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, now living with Malik's parents.
"The only reason we did this was thinking he'd come and defend himself," Nadia's brother Khaled said in a recent interview. "We just wanted some explanation, some words out of him, but we didn't even get that. You could have a $100 million award. It doesn't mean anything."
Singh did not respond to requests for comment for this article. Nor did his father, Davinder, who is also named in the lawsuit.
>> READ MORE: A year later, death of Nadia Malik is still a mystery
Malik's relatives said in the suit that Davinder Singh shared blame for the events that led to her death and that it "should have been forseeable [to him] that harm would come to" her if he allowed his son to borrow his car.
The suit faulted the elder Singh for allowing his son to use the car even though he had a suspended license because of a DUI conviction. The family also blamed Davinder Singh for sheltering his son in his Ohio home after he ditched the vehicle in University City and fled Philadelphia.
Common Pleas Court Judge Denis P. Cohen did not rule on the merits of the family's contention that Singh intentionally harmed Malik or the assertion that his father should have foreseen danger. Nor did he outline his reasoning for awarding the $10 million, damages the family's attorney said they were seeking to support her two children, recover the cost of her medical expenses and funeral, and balance their emotional distress.
In court, Habeeb Malik, Nadia's father, told the judge her death had devastated the family.
"My wife and I, my children and my grandchildren, all of us are suffering and going through the pain of her absence every day and hour in our life," he said at a May hearing to assess damages in the case. "These two criminals, they have taken away the happiness, they snatched it from our lives and we can never be fully happy again."
Two months later, Cohen ordered Singh and his father to pay the family.
The Malik family's attorney, Brian Mildenberg, said he viewed the decision as an indication that the judge believed Singh and his father bore some responsibility for her death.
"The family views the judgment as a record that the defendants' actions contributed to the death of Nadia, and has found some modicum of justice in the court's judgment," he said. "You can't bring her back to life, but we were able to at least secure this judgment."
It's unclear how the family would collect the judgment. Singh's whereabouts are unknown. He didn't respond to the subpoenas in the civil case, and he has an active warrant for his arrest in Delaware County dating back to April 2016, when he failed to report to his probation officer, officials said last week. Singh's father has been similarly elusive. He didn't respond to subpoenas in the civil case or hire a lawyer to counter the Malik family's contentions.
As for the criminal case, no one has been charged in connection with Malik's death, which remains under investigation by Philadelphia police and the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. Their work is complicated in part by the fact that her death has not been ruled a homicide.
The official cause and manner of Malik's death is listed as "undetermined," according to Jim Garrow, a spokesman for the city Medical Examiner's Office. It's a rare determination, and law-enforcement sources familiar with the case say the ruling can be changed if new evidence emerges.
>> READ MORE: Mystery surrounds death of young mother
As Malik's family hopes for a break in the case, they cannot help but focus on a relationship they say led their daughter to ruin.
In the weeks leading up to her death, Malik and Singh had been fighting, her relatives said. They said in the lawsuit that she had suffered a broken rib at his hands a month before her death. She was prescribed narcotic painkillers for her injuries, the suit said, and later told her family that she believed Singh was trying to poison her by slipping the pills into her food.
Malik also told her family that she wanted to separate from Singh and had refused his repeated overtures to marry her, according to the suit.
Records from the Delaware County Register of Wills show that Singh had applied for a marriage license in July 2009, but the completed application was never returned to the county with the required signatures.
Another marriage certificate, this one signed only by Singh, was found near Malik's body inside the Singhs' vehicle, her family said at the hearing in May.
Malik and Singh had dated for about seven years after meeting as teenagers, her family said. In court, Habeeb Malik told the judge Singh met his daughter when she was a junior in high school and continued to pursue her even though he implored him to stop.
Malik said he and his wife wanted their daughter to attend the University of Pennsylvania and pursue a medical career. But her high school grades slipped, he said, after she met Singh. His daughter and Singh continued their romantic relationship, which led to a pregnancy in Nadia's freshman year at the University of the Sciences, court records show. The couple hid the pregnancy from their families until Malik gave birth to their son when she was 18.
The couple had two more children, daughters, the family said. One, Alina, died suddenly three months after her birth in 2011, according to the Delaware County medical examiner.
The baby was found unresponsive inside a car parked near a Chinese restaurant in Springfield, Delaware County, in February 2012. Her cause of death was listed as cachexia, a type of muscle atrophy colloquially called "wasting syndrome." The manner of death was ruled undetermined, just as her mother's death would be almost exactly two years later.
The last time Malik's family heard from her was in early February 2014, the lawsuit said. Malik called her brother and told him she was with Singh and he was forcing her to stay with him. Then, the line went dead, her older sister Naalia later told the judge in the civil case. They filed a missing person's report with police in Marple Township the day after the aborted phone call.
>> READ MORE: Brother of woman found dead speaks out
While Malik's relatives were searching for her, Singh sent them antagonizing text messages, saying he was traveling with her around the East Coast.
Copies of those texts, obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News, show that Singh said he would let them talk with her in exchange for $100.
When they balked, Singh threatened to break the phone. He later wrote: "Okay think whatever bye I promise u this now u wont hear her ill …make sure bye u lost the chance."
"Look for us in the whole United States, I guarantee my life u wont find us," he said in another message.
Investigators tracked Singh to Ohio using Malik's cell phone, which he had taken with him to his parents' house in Solon, a suburb of Cleveland. He was arrested there for violating his probation on the DUI conviction after trying, unsuccessfully, to escape from the police by running out the home's back door.
Singh later admitted to sending the messages and told police he had traveled to Ohio on a bus from New York after getting into an argument with Malik "concerning their relationship," according to an affidavit of probable cause for his arrest on Feb. 12 on the probation violation.
Days later, a passerby spotted the black Nissan Altima that belonged to Singh's father parked outside a bar on 30th Street in University City. The tipster called police after recognizing the car from a description printed in a local newspaper story about Malik's disappearance.
The car, which had been towed from 23rd Street for snow removal during a winter storm, had been issued eight parking tickets, the first written on the same day that Malik's family had filed their missing person report.
Inside, investigators found Malik, her body partially obscured by a backpack and some clothing. And their long search for answers began.