The trial between the National Park Service and the family of a woman who was beheaded by an improperly secured security gate began this week — and there’s a major disagreement over how much to award in damages to the victim’s loved ones.
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.
While Michaud and Nakajjigo’s family initially sought a total of $270 million in damages when the lawsuit was filed, they appeared in Salt Lake City court this week asking for $140 million from the government. In court, per the AP, 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.
“We don’t know with any level of certainty what her plans were,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nelson said Monday, adding Nakajjigo was working as a host at a restaurant around the time of her death. He argued an appropriate amount to be awarded would be only $3.5 million. According to AP, U.S. attorneys did not deny park officials were responsible for her death, but disputed the amount of damages to be awarded.
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 on Sunday, ahead of the trial.
“I’ve always wanted to meet him, though not in this way,” Nakajjigo’s brother John told KUTV.