Family of Woman Decapitated by Swinging Gate at State Park Awarded $10.5 Million by U.S. Government

The family of a human rights activist killed in a freak accident at Utah’s Arches State Park won $10.5 million in damages from the U.S. government.

On Monday, a federal judge ruled Ludovic Michaud, the husband of Esther Nakajjigo, will receive $9.5 million, while Nakajjigo’s mother and father were awarded $700,000 and $350,000, respectively, per the Salt Lake Tribune. The family had initially sought a total of $270 million in damages, before lowering the amount to $140 — while the government only wanted to pay $3.5 million.

While much less than they were initially seeking, the family was clearly pleased with the results — with attorney Zoe Littlepage calling the amount “the largest verdict from a federal judge in Utah history.”

“On behalf of the family, we are very appreciative of the judge’s attention to detail, the time he spent working on this, and for the value he put on the loss to this family of Essie,” added Littlepage.

“We respect the judge’s decision and hope this award will help her loved ones as they continue to heal for this tragedy,” added the U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah. “On behalf of the United States, we again extend our condolences to Ms. Nakajjigo’s friends, family and beloved community.”

In 2020, Ludovic Michaud was driving with his 25-year-old wife Esther Nakajjigo out of Utah’s Arches National Park to get ice cream on June 13 when a metal gate swung into the car and cut her head off, according to a wrongful death administrative claim obtained by NBC News. The claim alleged that had park employees used an $8 padlock to secure the gate from moving in the breeze, it could have avoided the victim being “needlessly decapitated.”

Instead, “the end of the lance-like gate pierced the side of their car and penetrated it like a hot knife through butter.” The gate narrowly avoided Michaud, who was left covered head to toe in his wife’s blood.

The trial began in December and in court, per the AP, family attorney Randi McGinn reportedly argued Nakajjigo could have eventually brought in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, annually had she survived.

Nakajjigo was a women’s rights champion in her home country of Uganda; she founded a nonprofit community health center using her college tuition money, and created two reality TV shows centered around empowering women. One series reportedly had a weekly audience of 6.3 million viewers.

“For want of an $8.00 basic padlock, our world lost an extraordinary warrior for good; a young woman influencer who was destined to become our society’s future Princess Diana, Philanthropist Melinda Gates or Oprah Winfrey,” read the initial claim from Nakajjigo’s husband and family.

Having received numerous international accolades and awards, Nakajjigo came to the United States to further her education, where she met Michaud — a video streaming technology solution architect — via a dating app. They wed in a courthouse ceremony in March 2020, three months before her death, and had plans to have a big ceremony in Uganda when it was safe to travel again.

Instead, Michaud met his wife’s family — who traveled to the States from Uganda — for the first time just before the trial started.

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