SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — On a windy spring day in 2020, Ludovic Michaud drove around the scenic red rock landscape of Utah’s Arches National Park when The unthinkable happened: A metal door swung open, slashing through the passenger door of his car and beheading his new wife, Esther Nakajjigo, 25.
The tragic accident is now the subject of an ongoing wrongful-death lawsuit by Michaud and Nakajjigo’s family, in which they argue that the US Park Service was negligent in maintaining the park’s entrance and exit gates, resulting in Nakajjigo’s death.
In opening statements Monday in Salt Lake City, attorneys representing the families of Michaud and Nakagigo said they were seeking $140 million in damages from the government.
The family’s lawsuit alleges that when the park reopened in April 2020 after being closed due to COVID-19, rangers at Utah’s national parks no security The gates were in place, and in effect “turned a metal pipe into a spear, passed directly through the side of the car, decapitated and killed Esther Nakajjigo”.
U.S. prosecutors did not challenge park officials’ liability, but argued that the family should be awarded a much smaller amount and questioned how the damages sought were calculated. They said the family’s lawyer’s claim that Nakajjigo was 25 at the time of her death and would soon become a nonprofit CEO was too speculative to be relied upon for damages.
“We’re not sure what her plans were,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nelson said.
Randi McGinn, an attorney representing Nakajjigo’s family, detailed the horrific details of the death on Monday. After asking the family to leave the courtroom, she recounted the moment Michaud realized his wife had been killed when he inhaled the coppery smell of blood, turned to try to figure out what it was and saw she was dead.
The opening statement foreshadows how the trial will reduce the varying accounts of the accident and instead focus on Nakajiigo’s biography and earning potential, which will be used to calculate some of the damages. If her life hadn’t been cut short, McGinn said, Nakajjigo’s trajectory suggests she would have gone on to become a nonprofit CEO, potentially earning hundreds of thousands of dollars or millions of dollars a year.
She described Nakajjigo as a prominent women’s rights activist who rose from poverty to become the host of a solutions-oriented reality TV series in Uganda that focuses on issues such as education and healthcare Empower women.
Nakajjigo worked to raise money to open a hospital in an underserved area of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, before becoming a philanthropic celebrity and immigrating to the U.S. on a fellowship at the Watson Institute for Emerging Leaders in Boulder, Colorado.
Government Attorney Nelson said the appropriate amount of damages was $3.5 million, well below the $140 million being sought. He said he did not deny that Nakajjigo was an extraordinary person, but found it difficult to speculate on what kind of work she would go on to do. He pointed out that shortly before her death she had worked as a waitress in a restaurant without a bachelor’s degree.
Arches National Park is a 120-square-mile (310-square-kilometer) desert landscape near Moab, Utah, visited by more than 1.5 million people each year. It is known for a series of sculptural fins and arches made of orange sandstone that has been eroded by wind and water over centuries.