The family of Ryan Lim claimed the Medical Examiner’s Office failed for five months in its most basic duty to identify the teen and notify them of his death

San Diego County has agreed to pay $700,000 to settle a legal claim brought by a family who spent five months searching for their missing 19-year-old son before learning that his body had been at the county Medical Examiner’s Office the entire time.

The legal claim filed last year by Renee and William Lim and their surviving son accused the Medical Examiner’s Office of failing “in its most basic and fundamental duty” of identifying the body of Ryan Lim and notifying his family of his death. The claim had sought $5 million from the county, alleging the failure “inflicted five months of unending, unimaginable, and unnecessary anxiety, fear, and hopeless longing upon Ryan’s mother.”

A legal claim is a precursor to a civil suit. A county spokesperson said Friday that the settlement was reached before the family filed a lawsuit. CBS 8 first reported the settlement Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the Medical Examiner’s Office declined to comment on the settlement. An attorney for the family did not respond to a request for comment.

Ryan Lim grew up in Northern California. His mother told the Union-Tribune in October that he was a talented surfer, skateboarder and artist who also “struggled with the disease of addiction.” In November 2022, he was enrolled in an alcohol and drug addiction rehabilitation facility in Pacific Beach when he relapsed. He left the facility and moved in with a friend.

The claim alleges that his family last heard from him the morning of Nov. 7, when he texted his mother. An investigative report from the Medical Examiner’s Office indicates he was found dead that evening on the sidewalk along 10th Avenue near Broadway in downtown San Diego. He did not have identification on him.

The Medical Examiner’s Office later concluded his death was caused by a mixture of fentanyl, methamphetamine and two prescription medications.

For months, Renee Lim did not know her son’s fate. The claim alleged that after weeks of trying to track him down from Northern California, she filed a missing persons report with San Diego police on Nov. 23. A few weeks later she called the Medical Examiner’s Office.

She provided a description of her son and then waited while the person on the other end of the phone checked a database, according to the claim. Despite Ryan having several unique identifying factors, such as dreadlocks and four tattoos he’d designed, Renee was told her son was not there. Lim said the call gave her hope that her son was still alive somewhere. According to the claim, the woman she spoke with at the Medical Examiner’s Office “assured Ms. Lim that if Ryan had come to their office, he would have been identified by the thumbprint he provided for his license.”

Renee Lim fruitlessly resumed her search. In April 2023, a friend of Ryan’s called. The Medical Examiner’s Office had posted Ryan’s description on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, a centralized repository from the Department of Justice for missing, unidentified and unclaimed person cases. The friend recognized his description, including his unique tattoos, immediately.

The family’s claim alleged the Medical Examiner’s Office “made no effort to identify Ryan or contact his family … despite its clear statutory duty to do so.”

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