Family of a Ugandan human rights activist killed in a horrific accident at a Utah national park will receive more than $10 million in damages from the U.S. government, a federal judge ruled Monday.
The amount was substantially less than pursued, but attorneys representing Esther "Essie" Nakajjigo's family celebrated the win and said it was the largest federal wrongful death verdict in the state's history.
In November 2020, Nakajjigo's family filed a more than $270 million wrongful death and personal injury claim against the National Park Service after she was decapitated by an unsecured gate at Arches National Park.
Nakajjigo, 25, and her new husband Ludovic "Ludo" Michaud, 26, were driving to get ice cream during a June 13, 2020 camping trip when a metal gate blew closed in strong winds and sliced through the side of their car "like a hot knife through butter," according to the administrative claim, which was filed in October. The gate narrowly missed Michaud.
"By his verdict, Judge Bruce Jenkins has shown the world how the American justice system works to hold its own government accountable and greatly values all lives, including that of Esther Nakajjigo, a remarkable young woman from Uganda," Randi McGinn, the family's attorney said in a statement.
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'Our world lost an extraordinary warrior'
"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," the administrative claim, a precursor to the formal lawsuit, reads.
Before she died, Nakajjigo 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 successfully raised funds to build health care facilities in her hometown.
Neither the U.S. nor Nakajjigo's family disputed the facts of the case, so the civil suit focused on the amount of damages merited.
Attorneys representing Michaud and Nakajjigo's parents asked for $140 million in damages. The government said an appropriate award would be roughly $3.5 million.
In the end, the judge awarded Michaud $9.5 million; Nakajjigo's mother, Christine Namagembe, $700,000; and her father, John Bosco Kateregga, $350,000.
Contributing: Associated Press
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Decapitated Ugandan activist's family wins lawsuit after park accident