A group of Montgomery County police officers has sued Pappas Restaurants, Inc — along with automaker Tesla — following a DUI crash in February that injured five of the officers while they were conducting a separate traffic stop.
The lawsuit alleges that prior to the crash, staff at a Pappasito’s Cantina knowingly over-served the Tesla driver, who is not named in the suit. The case, filed in Harris County on Monday, September 27, also alleges that a failure of Tesla’s Autopilot feature was a major contributing factor in the crash.
Although the accident happened in east Montgomery County, the lawsuit was filed in Harris County because that is where Pappas Restaurant, Inc’s headquarters are located. The plaintiffs are seeking a total of $20 million in financial damages from both companies, and are being represented by Houston attorney (and former mayoral candidate) Tony Buzbee.
The crash occurred early on the morning of February 27 on Highway 69 in east Montgomery County. A Splendora police officer and a group of Precinct 4 deputies had pulled over another driver and were searching that driver’s vehicle for drugs. The suspect was handcuffed behind his vehicle speaking with a deputy. The Splendora officer was under the suspect’s truck, and two other deputies were searching inside the truck.
A man driving an all-electric Model X Tesla, headed northbound, then collided with the driver, officers and their vehicles while driving 70 miles per hour, the lawsuit states. The man had deployed Telsa’s Autopilot feature, which is supposed to assist with steering, braking, and recognizing road hazards such as construction and pedestrians. According to the suit, the vehicle’s Autopilot feature failed to engage its “Automatic Emergency Braking” system to avoid or mitigate the accident.
The lawsuit claims that prior to the accident, the driver of the Tesla had been over-served at a Pappasito’s Cantina. The driver, who was uninjured, was arrested following the crash on a suspected intoxication charge. Several of the officers and the original suspect were taken to the hospital with severe injuries. A police dog at the scene also required medical care. Two patrol cars on the scene were declared total losses.
“While at Pappasito’s Cantina, the driver consumed alcohol to the point where he was obviously intoxicated, and he presented a clear danger to himself and others,” the lawsuit reads. “While the driver was obviously intoxicated, Pappasito’s Cantina continued to serve alcohol to him.”
The lawsuit lists the conduct of Pappas Restaurants, Inc. and its employees as a “proximate cause” in the accident. Specifically, the filing accuses the restaurant group of violating the Texas Dram Shop Act, in continuing to serve the man, and of gross negligence in not properly training its servers and managers on how to recognize the signs of intoxication and how to deny service to an intoxicated person.
“Plaintiffs were injured because defendant’s Tesla Autopilot system malfunctioned and failed to detect police cars with flashing lights, and because Pappasito’s Cantina over-served the Tesla driver,” the filing reads.
In a statement to the Houston Chronicle, Anna Marchand, general counsel for Pappas, said the restaurant company would conduct an investigation into the allegations.
This isn’t the first time the Dram Shop Law has been used in a lawsuit against a Texas restaurant or bar. The law, which states that alcohol providers can be held liable for damages caused by an over-served patron, was the subject of $5.5 million ruling in July against La Fogata Mexican Grill and its owner, Lourdes Galindo. In that case, two men who had been drinking heavily at the restaurant, Daniel Rawls and Robert Henrickson, got into an altercation in the parking lot. Rawls fell, sustaining a “serious and debilitating” head injury. A jury found that the restaurant was responsible for the injury for over-serving both men.