SAN DIEGO — A Northern California mother whose missing son’s body was held at the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office for months while she searched to find him has filed a lawsuit against the county seeking $5 million in damages.

Renee Lim’s son, a 19-year-old named Ryan, died due to a fentanyl overdose on Nov. 7, 2022. The passionate skater, surfer and artist was in a San Diego-based recovery program when he relapsed. His body was found in downtown on 10th Street with no identification.

“It’s actually difficult to think of life without Ryan in it,” she said. “He was just a beautiful, beautiful kid and he did not deserve to be discarded and treated the way that he was.”

On the day he overdosed, Lim said she attempted to call him. When she did not hear back, she traveled down to San Diego to find him, even going so far as to file a missing person’s report and call the Medical Examiner’s Office to see if the worst had happened.

When she contacted the Medical Examiner, Lim said someone told her that Ryan’s body was not there and assured her if there he had finger prints in the system, he would be identified.

His body sat decaying in the San Diego County Morgue for five months before he was finally identified.

“Somebody made a decision that my son didn’t warrant any further investigation to figure out who he was,” Lim said. “It would’ve taken one call to the police department. I think my son deserves to be treated better.” 

Lim is still grieving almost a year after Ryan’s death — not only the loss of her child to a drug overdose, but what she described as the pain she was forced to endure due to the incompetence of the Medical Examiner’s Office.

“It’s hard to imagine that it could get worse,” Lim said. “The mortician we are working with, when he said that I shouldn’t see Ryan, it really just broke my heart that I couldn’t even see my son for the last time.”

“We’re dealing with a shocking level of incompetence,” said Lim’s attorney Matt Fletcher. “Renee called she gave descriptions of the tattoos her son had, and (he) laid around until five months later.” 

According to the Medical Examiner, the office uses in-house labs to help identify cause of death. These labs, officials say, can also positively identify 83% of John or Jane Doe’s within 72 hours. However, the office says on their website that a backlog of cases has pushed the average wait time for cause of death to anywhere from four to six months.

“We are not suing over the 83%,” Marc Greenburg, another attorney representing Lim, added. “We’re suing because of the 17% and the worst we have here — they did nothing.”

In a statement to FOX 5, the county declined to comment on the litigation directly.