Family Awarded $10.5M After Horrific National Park Accident

Esther Nakajjigo was decapitated by unsecured gate
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 31, 2023 7:14 PM CST
Family of Woman Decapitated in Utah Park Awarded $10.5M
Delicate Arch is seen at Arches National Park on April 25, 2021, near Moab, Utah.   (AP Photo/Lindsay Whitehurst, File)

In June 2020, Denver resident Ludovic Michaud took his new wife to see one of his favorite landmarks at Arches National Park in Utah. He ended up drenched in her blood after she was decapitated by an unsecured gate. A judge awarded Michaud $9.5 million Monday as part of what attorney Zoe Littlepage says is "the largest verdict from a federal judge in Utah history," the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The verdict in the lawsuit over the death of Esther "Essie" Nakajjigo also includes $700,000 for the 25-year-old's mother and $350,000 for her father.

According to court documents, Michaud and Nakaljigo were on the way out of the park on June 13, 2020 when the wind caught a metal gate that should have been secured and it swung into the couple's rental car. The park's failure to secure the gate "turned a metal pipe into a spear that went straight through the side of a car, decapitating and killing Esther Nakajjigo," court documents state, per the Tribune. "The United States was 100% at fault," a lawyer for the US government acknowledged during the trial. "And we want to express on behalf of the United States our profound sorrow for your loss." A wrongful death claim filed in 2020 said the gate could have been secured with an $8 padlock, NBC reports.

The family had initially sought $140 million from the government, arguing that Nakajjigo, a Ugandan women's rights activist who hosted a reality TV series in her homeland focused on women's empowerment, was on course to become the CEO of a nonprofit and could have earned millions over her lifetime, the AP reports. The government argued that $3.5 million was more appropriate. During the trial, attorneys said Michaud, who met Nakajjigo while she was attending a leadership course in Colorado, still suffers from PTSD. Before the verdict, Michaud told the Tribune that his goals were to make sure that such an accident never happens again—and to receive enough in damages to continue Nakajjigo's initiatives in Uganda and possibly beyond. (Read more Arches National Park stories.)

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