The family of an American who died after being detained by North Korea has been awarded $501 million after filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the nation.
The ruling on behalf of the parents of Otto Warmbier, who died in 2017 after being held for 17 months in North Korea, was issued Monday, The Hill reported.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier sued for more than $1 billion.
“We put ourselves and our family through the ordeal of a lawsuit and public trial because we promised Otto that we will never rest until we have justice for him,” the family said in a statement, according to USA Today.
“As a family, mother, father, sister and brother, we would like to thank all those who knew and loved Otto, and for all those who supported us and our mission to hold (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un) liable for his actions,” they told CNN.
Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that North Korea was liable for “the torture, hostage taking, and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier” as well as suffering on the part of his parents.
Warmbier’s estate should receive $21 million in compensatory damages and $150 million in punitive damages, the judge ruled. Each parent was also awarded $15 million in compensatory damages and $150 million in punitive 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.
The judge said the issue was broader than this one case.
“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,” Howell wrote.
“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,” the judge added.
The Warmbiers said in their statement that North Korea has “perfected its means of terrorizing” both its own people and others.
“Today’s thoughtful opinion by Chief Judge Howell Is a significant step on our journey,” the family said in its statement.
North Korea has denied mistreating Warmbier and was considered unlikely to pay the verdict.
“It’s another government and one that doesn’t cooperate much with the United States,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “The question is how to find assets that are probably in the United States that the parents could secure.”
“I think the judge is clear that she was trying to deter and punish bad behavior by the North Koreans. Hopefully, it will have that effect,” he said.
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