National Park sued after gate decapitates woman

Water trickles under the Rainbow Bridge at Lake Powell on March 28, 2015 in Lake Powell, Utah.
Water trickles under the Rainbow Bridge at Lake Powell on March 28, 2015 in Lake Powell, Utah. Photo credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Opening statements were given on Monday in a case involving the death of a woman who was killed at Utah’s Arches National Park when a metal gate whipped around on a windy day and sliced through the passenger door of her vehicle, decapitating her.

Esther Nakajjigo was 25 and newly married at the time of her death. Since then, her family and husband, Ludovic Michaud, have filed a lawsuit, seeking $140 million in damages from the government, The Associated Press reported.

The accident is the main subject of the wrongful death lawsuit. In it, Michaud and Nakajjigo’s family argue that the U.S. Park Service was negligent in not maintaining the gates to the entrances of its parks.

In opening statements, lawyers for Nakajjigo’s family described her death in gruesome detail, including the moment Michaud looked over to his wife and saw she was dead. The statements were made after the family stepped out of the courtroom, according to the AP.

The Salt Lake City attorney’s representing the family say that after the parks reopened in April 2020, rangers at Utah’s Arches National Park failed to properly secure the gate which took the life of Nakajjigo.

They say the negligence “turned a metal pipe into a spear that went straight through the side of a car, decapitating and killing Esther Nakajjigo.”

Attorneys representing the United States did not deny that blame should be placed on park officials, but they did argue that the settlement amount the family is seeking should be far less. Attorneys even questioned how the $140 million amount was calculated, the AP reported.

Part of the reason the damages are listed so high was Nakajjigo's earning potential, as she was said to potentially become a non-profit CEO. Opening statements focused on her biography and less on what happened the day of her death.

U.S. Attorneys say that damages should be placed at $3.5 million, far less than what is being pursued. While they did not deny the life of Nakajjigo, they did argue it is near impossible to speculate how far someone would have climbed in their professional life.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images