Family of Ugandan philanthropist decapitated by traffic gate in Arches National Park awarded $10.5m

Ludovic Michaud witnessed his wife Esther Nakajjigo’s death during an April 2020 trip to Utah’s Arches National Park (Facebook / Esther Nakajjigo)
Ludovic Michaud witnessed his wife Esther Nakajjigo’s death during an April 2020 trip to Utah’s Arches National Park (Facebook / Esther Nakajjigo)

The family of Ugandan philanthropist Esther Nakajjigo, who was decapitated by a traffic gate in front of her husband in Arches National Park in Utah, has been awarded $10.5m.

The ruling was issued by a US District Court on Friday, according to KUTV.

Relatives of a Ms Nakajjigo initially sought $140m in damages from the US government. The $10.5m decision came after a wrongful death trial in Salt Lake City for the philanthropist who was tragically killed on a camping trip with husband Ludovic Michaud on 13 June 2020, the Associated Press reported.

Attorneys for Ms Nakajjigo’s family argued that the US National Park Service were negligent for not securing a metal traffic control gate that whipped around in high winds and sliced through the car’s passenger door, instantly killing her.

Ms Nakajjigo was described as an “extraordinary warrior for good” who was destined to become a future Princess Diana or Oprah Winfrey in pre-trial court documents.

“She was one in a billion,” family attorney Randi McGinn told the court during opening arguments, according to Fox 13.

US attorneys don’t dispute that park officials were to blame. But they argued that the damages initially sought based on Ms Nakajjigo’s future earning potential was too high, and that a figure of $3.5m would be appropriate.

Ms McGinn asked relatives to leave the courtroom before describing in graphic detail how Mr Michaud realised his wife was dead “when he inhaled the copper-tinged smell of blood,” and turned to see she was dead, the AP reported.

The attorney said Nakajjigo was on a path to becoming a non-profit CEO capable of earning an annual salary of more than $1m.

At the age of 17, Nakajjigo was awarded a Woman Achiever Award from the United Nations for fundraising for a children’s hospital and created a popular reality television series aimed at empowering young mothers.

She was known in Uganda as the “Princess of Hearts” for her internationally acclaimed humanitarian works and earned a full scholarship for emerging leaders to study at the Watson Institute in Boulder, Colorado, in 2019.

For the government, US assistant attorney Jeffrey Nelson accepted Nakajjigo was an “extraordinary person” but said it was impossible to determine what her future earnings would have been, per the Associated Press.

The claim filed on 22 October argued that her death could have been avoided if the gate had been installed correctly or if it had been locked in place to prevent it from moving in the wind.

The lawsuit argued that the unsecured gate in effect “turned a metal pipe into a spear that went straight through the side of a car, decapitating and killing Esther Nakajjigo”.

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