Family of woman killed by gate at Arches National Park awarded $10.2M

Jan 30, 2023, 5:27 PM | Updated: Jan 31, 2023, 6:49 am
FILE - A rock formation in Arches National Park in the Devil's Garden area (Larry D. Curtis/KSL TV)
(Larry D. Curtis/KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — A judge awarded $10.2 million to the family and spouse of  Esther “Essie” Nakajjigo, who was killed by an unsecured gate at Arches National Park in 2020.

Nakajjigo, 25, a women’s rights activist from Uganda, was killed when driving in Arches National Park with Ludovic “Ludo” Michaud during a camping trip on June 13, 2020. A strong wind blew an unsecured metal gate into the car, decapitating Nakajigo. Since that time, the gates at Arches National Park have been changed.

On Monday, a U.S. District Court judge made a decision in the wrongful death lawsuit to award $10.5 million.

Attorney Trina A. Higgins, representing the United States in the case, released the following statement:

“The United States acknowledged that Esther Nakajjigo’s heirs were entitled to damages in this case. Judge Bruce S. Jenkins weighed the evidence presented and awarded plaintiffs $10.55 million in damages. We respect the judge’s decision and hope this award will help her loved ones as they continue to heal from this tragedy. On behalf of the United States, we again extend our condolences to Ms. Nakajjigo’s friends, family, and beloved community.”

“The effort to substitute money for the damages each Plaintiff suffered of a life early and tragically taken from each of them, while always inexact, is the best that can be done in a culture such as ours,” the court document states.

The reasonable and just non-economic loss of Nakajjigo to her widower, Michaud, was found by the court to be $7.5 million. Michaud was entitled to another $1 million in economic damages, and an additional $1 million for emotional distress, totaling $9.5 million in all.

Nakajjigo’s mother, Christine Namagembe, was awarded $700,000; and Nakajjigo’s father, John Bosco Kateregga,  was awarded $350,000.

Michaud and the family of Nakajjigo originally filed a wrongful death and personal injury claim against the National Park Service for $270 million in November 2020.

At the end of the trial in December 2022, the family requested $169.05 million.

Plaintiff attorneys requested that Michaud be awarded $30,000,000 for non-economic damages, $94,787,699 for economic damages, and $35,000,000 for his severe emotional distress.

Attorneys asked that Nakajjigo’s mother be awarded $9.5 million and Nakajjigo’s father be awarded $1.05 million.

Nakajjigo came to the U.S. after a rise to fame in Uganda as a leader and ambassador for women and girls. She obtained a scholarship from a Colorado charity to attend the Watson Institute in Colorado to attend school there in a course for young leaders. It was there that she met her husband, Michaud.

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Family of woman killed by gate at Arches National Park awarded $10.2M