SALT LAKE CITY — The United States will pay the families of a Ugandan human rights activist killed in an accident in Arches National Park more than $10 million in damages, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Although the amount was substantially less than requested, attorneys representing the family of Esther Nakajjigo held the trial, saying it was the largest federal wrongful death verdict in Utah history.

“With his verdict, Judge Bruce Jenkins has shown the world how the American justice system works to hold its own government accountable and places great value on all lives, including that of Esther Nakajjigo, an extraordinary young woman from Uganda,” Randi McGinn, family lawyer. she said in a statement.

Esther Nakajjigo and Ludovic Michaud in Arches National Park in eastern Utah. This photo was taken hours before a door entered the couple’s car, killing Nakajjigo.Courtesy of Ludovic Michaud

Nakajjigo and her husband, Ludovic Michaud, were vacationing in eastern Utah, visiting the region’s national parks months after their wedding. Recreation areas recently opened after pandemic-era closures, and at the edge of Arches, a metal gate normally secured with a padlock was left untethered.

As the couple were leaving the park, gusts of wind swung the gate quickly enough to blast through the passenger side door of the couple’s car, decapitating Nakajjigo as her husband sat a few feet away in the car seat. driver.

The gruesome nature of Nakajjigo’s death and the fact that she was a renowned Ugandan women’s rights activist drew attention to the case.

Nakajjigo, 25, lived with her husband in Denver, where she moved to attend a leadership course on a full scholarship. She rose from poverty to become the host of a solutions-oriented reality television series in Uganda focused on empowering women on issues such as education and healthcare, and had raised funds to build healthcare facilities in the her hometown.

Because neither the US nor Nakajjigo’s family disputed the facts of the case, the civil lawsuit focused largely on the amount of damages. Lawyers representing the parents of Michaud and Nakajjigo have asked for $140 million in damages, while the government said adequate compensation would be approximately $3.5 million.

Ludovic Michaud and Esther Nakajigo.
Ludovic Michaud and Esther Nakajigo.Courtesy of Ludovic Michaud

Jenkins awarded Michaud $9.5 million; Nakajjigo’s mother, Christine Namagembe, $700,000; and his father, John Bosco Kateregga, $350,000.

Throughout the trial, the lawyers debated estimates of Nakajjigo’s earning potential. McGinn, representing Nakajjigo’s family, compared her to a nonprofit CEO of an American charity and said she would likely have made millions in her lifetime. Lawyers representing the US praised her work, but noted that her most recent job was in a restaurant earning $15 an hour.

At his trial, Jenkins said the government had provided «a more reasonable projection» of Nakajjigo’s earnings potential.