The parents of Otto Warmbier, the student who was imprisoned and tortured in North Korea before slipping into a coma and dying, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the North Korean government for more than $1 billion, or about 2.5% of the country’s entire GDP.
The family, that lives in Wyoming, Ohio, filed the lawsuit in federal court last April. North Korean authorities had arrested their son in January 2016 for attempting to steal a propaganda poster. He was later sentenced to 15 years in prison and subsequently died last year, days after he was released from North Korea to the United States in a coma. He had been tortured and in captivity in a North Korean labor camp for more than 17 months.
In October, a motion in the lawsuit was filed that seeks $1.05 billion in punitive damages on top of $46 million for the family’s suffering. North Korea has repeatedly denied that it tortured the 22-year-old. The family’s lawsuit claims that North Korea was in violation of international laws and forced their son to confess to carrying out an act of subversion on behalf of the United States.
If the dollar amount of the lawsuit pops out at you, it is for good reason. The motion includes language clarifying that the amount is intended to prevent North Korea from such unlawful behavior in the future. In federal court in Washington this week, the family of Warmbier said that they only wanted closure and justice on behalf of their son.
Fred Warmbier, Otto’s father, said last week:
“We’re here because we don’t fear North Korea anymore”.
The family was blindsided not only when their son did not return from his trip to North Korea when he was supposed to, but also after he was brought home more than a year later in a coma – after North Korea described his condition as “good”.
President Trump has repeatedly said that Warmbier “did not die in vain” and has credited Otto and his family, whom Trump calls “good friends” of his, for the denuclearization pact signed with North Korea this past summer.
“Otto Warmbier is a very special person and he will be for a long time in my life,” Trump said over the summer.