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$10.5 Million Awarded to Family of Woman Decapitated in Arches National Park 

On June 13, 2020, Esther Nakajjigo, a Colorado-based Ugandan human rights activist, was killed in Arches National Park, Utah, when a metal gate flew open in a gust of wind and impaled her car.

Nakajjigo was 25 years old and had moved to Colorado the previous year to attend the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. She’d also just gotten married, and her new husband, Ludovic Michaud, was with her when the incident happened. This was the fourth known death caused by this kind of gate.

Image by Cosmic Timetraveler

Michaud, along with Nakajjigo’s parents, sued the U.S. Government for the national park’s negligence and wrongful death. The plaintiffs originally asked for more than $100 million in damages—which they argued was a paltry sum compared to the life of a woman who had been recognized by the United Nations for her human rights work and, by all accounts, would have gone on to accomplish great things. 

The U.S. Government admitted fault, but the case was ultimately brought to court to determine the final amount owed. After five days of testimony this January, a federal judge in Utah ruled that the U.S. Government owed the plaintiffs $10.5 million. $9.5 million will go to Michaud and the rest will go to Nakajjigo’s parents. This is the largest wrongful-death verdict ever awarded in the state of Utah. 

A single car driving on a scenic road at Arches National Park.

The family has stated that, rather than a bitter battle, the court case represented a unique chance to share more about Nakajjigo and who she was, and to speak openly about how much she accomplished and how much she meant to them.

“The trial gave me and Essie’s family members an opportunity to tell Essie’s beautiful story,” Michaud said in a statement.  

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