After filing a lawsuit following her death, the family of a Ugandan human rights activist who was decapitated while visiting Utah’s Arches National Park will receive more than $10 million.
The verdict comes after Esther “Essie” Nakajjigo’s husband and parents filed a $270 million lawsuit against the National Park Service after she died, according to PEOPLE. The fatal incident happened in 2020, and the administrative claim was submitted the following year.
According to the verdict, $9.5 million will be awarded to Nakajjigo’s husband, Ludovic Michaud. In addition, the federal judge awarded $700,000 to Nakajjigo’s mother and $350,000 to her father. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, “this is the largest verdict from a federal judge in Utah history,” according to the case’s lead attorney, Zoe Littlepage.
Nakajjigo died on June 13, 2020, while she was with her husband. The couple had traveled to Utah’s Arches National Park to commemorate the one-year anniversary of their first meeting, according to The Associated Press. A strong wind blew the park’s entrance gate into the couple’s rental car as they drove away, cutting through it “like a hot knife through butter.” As a result, Nakajjigo, who was in the passenger seat, was decapitated.
Following the verdict, Littlepage added, “On behalf of the family, we are very appreciative of the judge’s attention to detail, the time he spent working on this, and the value he placed on Essie’s loss to this family.”
Trina Higgins, the United States Attorney for the District of Utah, also told The Salt Lake Tribune that the deceased activist’s family deserved the money. “The United States was entirely to blame.” “And we want to express our profound sorrow for your loss on behalf of the United States,” an attorney for the US government said during the trial.
“We respect the judge’s decision and hope this award will help her loved ones as they continue to heal for this tragedy,” the statement said. “On behalf of the United States, we again extend our condolences to Ms. Nakajjigo’s friends, family and beloved community.”
Littlepage described Nakajjigo as “a remarkable humanitarian and champion for women and girls” in a statement to PEOPLE. “This verdict, while the largest in Utah history by a federal judge, cannot compensate for the immeasurable loss suffered by her husband and family,” the attorney added.
In her native Uganda, Nakajjigo served as an ambassador for women and girls. When she was 17, she founded a health center where Ugandan adolescents could receive free medical care. Prior to her death, she was in charge of the facility.
According to PEOPLE, the deceased activist also created two reality shows that aimed to empower young mothers and encourage girls to stay in school.