Court orders North Korea to pay $501M to Otto Warmbier's parents

A federal court judge on Friday ordered North Korea to pay $501 million to the parents of Otto Warmbier, the young man who died in 2017 after being detained there.

Warmbier's parents filed a wrongful death suit against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in April and appeared in court last week for the first hearing. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Fred and Cindy Warmbier sued the North Korean government for more than $1 billion, saying they were seeking “closure” and wanted to “obtain justice for the severe injuries” they say their son and family suffered.

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, an Obama appointee, in her opinion on Monday found North Korea liable for "the torture, hostage taking, and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier" as well as the injuries to his parents.

Howell said Warmbier's estate is entitled to $21 million in compensatory damages and $150 million in punitive damages. Each of his parents is entitled to $15 million in compensatory damages and $150 million in punitive damages.

The ruling is mainly symbolic as North Korea is unlikely to pay the damages.

"Before Otto traveled with a tour group on a five-day trip to North Korea, he was a healthy, athletic student of economics and business in his junior year at the University of Virginia, with ‘big dreams’ and both the smarts and people skills to make him his high school class salutatorian, homecoming king, and prom king," Howell wrote in the opinion.

“He was blind, deaf, and brain dead when North Korea turned him over to U.S. government officials for his final trip home," she wrote.

Otto was apprehended in North Korea while touring the country in 2016 and was detained for more than 17 months. North Korean officials have claimed that Otto stole a painting off the wall of a hotel. His parents have alleged that Otto was tortured and beaten and held as a prisoner for political reasons.

Warmbier died at age 22 from a lack of blood and oxygen to his brain due to an unknown injury he sustained while being held in North Korea, a coroner found.

North Korea has denied accusations that Warmbier was tortured.

"An American family, the Warmbiers, experienced North Korea’s brutality first-hand when North Korea seized their son to use as a pawn in that totalitarian state’s global shenanigans and face-off with the United States," the court documents said.

"Having been compelled to keep silent during Otto’s detention in North Korea in an effort to protect his safety, Otto’s parents have since promised to 'stand up' and hold North Korea accountable for its 'evil' actions against their son."