The Monday ruling in the US District Court for the District of Columbia is considered symbolic since it is unlikely that North Korea will cough up the cash. The ruling comes after Mr Warmbier’s parents sued the isolationist country for than $1bn.
“North Korea is liable for torture, hostage taking, and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier, and the injuries to his mother and father, Fred and Cindy Warmbier,” Chief Judge Beryl A Howell wrote in the ruling.
Mr Warmbier, who was studying at the University of Virginia, went on a tour in in North Korea during his study abroad program in China. During his tour in North Korea, Mr Warmbier allegedly stole a propaganda poster from a hotel. He was arrested in January 2016 and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment with hard labour.
Mr Warmbier, however, was held captive for more than 17 months before his health condition worsened.
The Ohio native suffered from severe brain damage and was in a coma when he was repatriated to the US in June 2017. He died on June 19, a few days after returning to the US, when his family requested doctors to remove his feeding tube. He was 22.
Donald Trump criticised North Korea over the Warmbier controversy, but later, following a thaw in tensions, pushed ahead with a more conciliatory policy that resulted in the US president meeting Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June. The two leaders are due to have a second summit in 2019.
On Monday evening, Mr Trump tweeted a picture of himself in the Oval Office, and wrote: “Christmas Eve briefing with my team working on North Korea – progress being made. Looking forward to my next summit with Chairman Kim.”
North Korea has routinely denied accusations that Mr Warmbier was tortured under its custody. North Korean officials told the US that Mr Warmbier suffered from botulism, a rare and potentially fatal illness, and went into a coma after taking a sleeping pill.
However, Cincinnati doctors said their examination did not show any evidence of botulism.
“When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13 he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable – almost anguished,” Mr Warmbier’s parents said in a statement. “Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed - he was at peace. He was home and we believe he could sense that.”
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