Judge awards $10.5M to family of Ugandan woman decapitated in Arches National Park

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge awarded more than $10.5 million to the widower and parents of a Ugandan celebrity and activist decapitated by a traffic control gate in Arches National Park.

The husband of Esther “Essie” Nakajjigo, Ludo Michaud, was awarded $9.5 million, while her mother was awarded $700,000 and her father received $350,000.

OThe U.S. Attorney’s said in a statement that they hope the award will help the family heal from the tragedy.

“The United States acknowledged that Esther Nakajjigo’s heirs were entitled to damages in this case. Judge Bruce S. Jenkins weighed the evidence presented and awarded plaintiffs $10.55M in damages,” the statement reads. “We respect the judge’s decision and hope this award will help her loved ones as they continue to heal from this tragedy. On behalf of the United States, we again extend our condolences to Ms. Nakajjigo’s friends, family and beloved community.”

The family asked for $169.05 million during closing arguments of a weeklong trial in December. The U.S. government has admitted liability for Nakajjigo’s death, but federal attorneys asked federal Judge Bruce Jenkins to limit the damages award to $3.7 million.

The trial focused on how much income Nakajjigo would have earned had she lived and the horror witnessed by her husband, Ludo Michaud, who was in the driver’s seat when his wife died.

June 13, 2020, Nakajjigo and her new husband, Ludo Michaud, drove from their home in the Denver area to Arches. As they were exiting the park, the wind caught a traffic gate that had not been secured.

Its arm pierced the rented Chevy Malibu, decapitating the 25-year-old Nakajjigo in the passenger seat.

Plaintiffs showed the National Park Service had been warned about gates that close clockwise – in the direction of oncoming traffic. The gate at Arches has since been changed.

Nakajjigo was a celebrity and humanitarian in her home country of Uganda. She raised money to build medical clinics for women and teenagers and produced television shows documenting the plight of teenage mothers in Uganda. Nakajjigo was enrolled at a leadership program in Boulder, Colorado, when she met Michaud in 2019.

The plaintiffs contended she would have gone on to earn millions of dollars a year income. The family has said it wants to use a court award to continue her work.

Plaintiff attorneys asked that Michaud receive $30 million for loss of companionship, $35 million for emotional damages and economic losses of $70 to $94 million.

Plaintiffs asked Nakajjigo’s father be awarded up to $1.05 million, her mother receive up to $9.5 million.

Read Full Article, Fox 13 Salt Lake City by Nate Carlisle