A new lawsuit accuses Witham Health Services in Lebanon of negligence for hiring a pediatrician who’d faced criminal sexual-misconduct charges during his residency in 2004 and then allowing him to see patients with no one else present.
A jury found the pediatrician, Dr. Jonathon Cavins, not guilty in the 2004 case. But in a separate criminal case launched last year amid fresh allegations of sexual misconduct, a jury in February found Cavins guilty on two counts of child molestation, one count of sexual misconduct with a minor and two counts of child seduction.
Cavins—whom Witham dismissed in February 2019, when prosecutors brought the new charges—faces up to 17 years in prison. The allegations came from five boys ages 12 to 17 who say Cavins inappropriately touched their genitals during routine medical exams at Witham’s pediatric suite, 2605 N. Lebanon St.
“I know he was acquitted [in the 2004 case], but you don’t give him unfettered access to kids,” said Jason Reese, an attorney with the Indianapolis law firm Wagner Reese, which brought the case on behalf of one of the victims in the criminal case.
Reese said Cavins, 42, worked at Witham at least a decade. In the suit filed March 25 in Boone County, the law firm says the health network “knew or should have known [Cavins] posed a significant danger to minor children” placed in his care.
In a written response to the suit, Witham said “it disputes and will defend against any statement that legal liability might exist with Witham, as an employer, resulting from the unknown criminal acts of another individual.”
In the statement, the health network added: “Without disregarding the impact on the parties involved in the allegations, Witham has taken these allegations seriously from the start and cares deeply about the treatment of its patients.”
Witham, which is owned by Boone County, operates Witham Memorial Hospital in Lebanon. In addition to Lebanon, it has health care facilities in Crawfordsville, Jamestown, Thorntown, Whitestown and Zionsville.
This is the second lawsuit brought against Witham in the wake of the 2019 criminal case against Cavins. In March 2019, Indianapolis law firm Cohen & Malad sued Cavins alone on behalf of another victim in the criminal case. Seven months later, it added Witham as a defendant, saying the health system discovered or should have discovered Cavins had “a propensity for sexual misconduct.”
Greg Laker, chairman of Cohen & Malad’s personal injury practice group, said his firm will seek to learn everything it can during discovery about what Witham knew about the 2004 case. However, he said that because that was so long ago, rules of evidence might not permit presenting that information to the jury.
The 2004 case involved Cavins’ interaction with patients during morning rounds in Riley Hospital for Children’s hematology/oncology unit. Prosecutors alleged Cavins placed a leukemia patient’s hand on his penis on four consecutive days.
Cavins received his medical license in 2008. He volunteered to the suspension of his license in March 2019.
Reese and Laker said they believe Cavins might have many more victims that haven’t come to light so far.
Reese encouraged parents who took a son to see Cavins when he was an adolescent to have a frank discussion with that child or arrange for a professional counselor to question him.