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Jury Finds Driver Acted With Malice, Must Pay $18 Million in Damages After Fatal Car Accident

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A 2016 car accident at a Calabasas, California, crosswalk that left one pedestrian dead and another seriously injured has resulted in a jury awarding $18 million in personal injury damages. The accident involved Nicole Herschel, 39, of Malibu, California, crashing into a mother and daughter, and later denying her involvement in the collision.

Yijing Chen, the surviving victim in the accident, had indicated to authorities that after the crash, Herschel exited her pickup truck and dragged the body of Chen’s unconscious mother towards the curb, leaving her unattended. Herschel then reversed the truck, and parked along an adjoining road.

Herschel waited near the scene of the crash until first responders arrived. When California Highway Patrol officers took her witness statement, Herschel indicated she “came upon the injured women while driving to the supermarket,” according to the Los Angeles Times. A California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer reportedly found her answers to be “evasive.” Criminal charges were recommended against Herschel by the CHP. She pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced in 2017 to a year in jail.

On Friday, a Van Nuys, California, jury found that Herschel acted with malice in the 2016 accident, and awarded Chen the multimillion-dollar civil verdict.

Chen’s attorney, Jonathan Ritter, told the Los Angeles Times the trial offered some measure of closure, but his client still suffers from the devastating loss.

“If it was an accident, Yijing could have gotten over this easier,” Ritter said. “But treating her mom like a dead animal? That’s an image she can’t get out of her brain.”

Via court papers, Herschel’s defense lawyers disputed whether or not Herschel actually dragged Chen’s mother at the scene of the accident. Said papers stated that Herschel briefly “touched” and “lifted” Chen’s body. Herschel never called 911. Her attorneys have argued that at the time of the incident, Herschel did not believe she was involved in the accident.

A Los Angeles Times article provided further details regarding what transpired during the accident:

“Just before 9 p.m. on June 5, 2016, the mother and daughter held hands as they walked along Las Virgenes Road, toward the nearby Albertsons. They stepped into the crosswalk and Chen said she felt her mother’s arms start to pull away.”

The California Highway Patrol’s investigative report provides further details regarding what happened next:

Chen was thrown to the ground, and the truck ran over her left leg. She saw her mother’s torso being run over by the truck’s right rear tire. Herschel got out of the pickup and asked, “What happened to you? Why are you guys walking when the light is red?

 Herschel then proceeded to pull Chen’s body towards the curb, hopped back into the truck, and parked along Las Virgenes Road.

 At the scene, Herschel told CHP officers that her dog had jumped on her daughter’s car seat, and while tending to the dog, she looked and saw the two women in the roadway.

Authorities seized Herschel’s truck a few days later at a Los Angeles International Airport parking lot, and an officer noticed the truck had been recently washed. Investigators found a strand of dark hair above the rear axle, and also saw marks along the truck’s frame that appeared consistent with Hongfen Shen’s footwear.

Herschel reportedly served just under five months in jail for the manslaughter charge.

Court records and the investigative report indicate the California Highway Patrol recommended prosecutors file a felony hit-and-run charge, with additional misdemeanor charges of manslaughter and tampering with evidence at the scene.

Instead, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed the single misdemeanor manslaughter charge. That type of charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.