Late last week, when we heard the news that the family of Alex Cervantes filed a lawsuit against Fuzzy's Taco for their alleged role in the officer's death, we were all relieved. I thought I'd take a moment to discuss why we're relieved and how this lawsuit is a win for the community. Before getting into all of that, let's make sure we're all on the same page and discuss what this case is about.
What Led Up to the Cervantes Family Suing Fuzzy's Taco?
The lawsuit stems from an incident where a drunk driver—who had allegedly spent three hours drinking at a Fuzzy's Taco—ran a red light and crashed into a vehicle carrying Detective Alex Cervantes, his wife, and two children. Before the accident, the drunk driver, Dylan Molina, reportedly consumed eight double shots of vodka, the equivalent of 16 servings. The bartender, Cala Richardson, allegedly served Molina those drinks and there is a video that appears to show her ignoring clear signs that he was drunk. For example, the security video footage shows Molina behind the bar and Richardson trying to get him back to his seat. The same video shows Molina stumbling towards the exit, right before he leaves the bar and only minutes before he crashes into Detective Cervantes' vehicle, kills him, and injures his family.
Prosecutors charged Molina with intoxication manslaughter, as well as intoxication assault. He's now serving 15 years in prison. As for the bartender, she's now charged with unlawful service, and faces the possibility of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
As things currently stand, everyone who reportedly played a role in this tragedy is facing accountability for their actions, with the possible exception of Fuzzy's Taco, who has some very serious allegations against it.
Why Fuzzy's Taco's Alleged Actions Demand Accountability
Some people are probably thinking to themselves, "Mike, obviously the drunk driver and perhaps the bartender should be held accountable for their role in this crash, but why is the family suing the bar?"
Before I answer that, let's recap the information that's been reported on this incident so far:
- A Fuzzy's employee allegedly served Molina 16 servings of alcohol though he was showing obvious signs he was drunk.
- Prior to the crash, Fuzzy's reportedly did not require the bartender to obtain safe alcohol service training.
- Perhaps most damning of all, there are reports that Fuzzy's Taco mandated that the bartender obtain TABC training three days after the crash.
Let's leave aside what the law says for a moment and instead ask, was there a point where Fuzzy's Taco, particularly its management, could have intervened and prevented the alleged alcohol over-service that led to Detective Cervantes' death? I think the answer is clear.
Assume for a moment that the reports are true, that Fuzzy's allowed the bartender to serve alcohol without proper training, and that she had no idea it was illegal to serve Molina 16 servings of alcohol. Also, assume the bartender didn't know anything about her responsibilities under the law—an admittedly safe assumption (tongue firmly in cheek)—is this the kind of behavior any of us would engage in if we hosted a party in our own home? As a matter of behaving like a decent person, isn't there a point when you have to say, "you've had enough?"
Let me put it another way. Would you serve a guest in your home 16 servings of alcohol and watch him drive away without feeling like you're partially responsible should something bad happen to him? This is precisely the reason Texas law prohibits bars from serving an "obviously intoxicated person who is a danger to themselves or others."
Certainly, the drunk could have prevented this incident by drinking responsibly. It appears likely the bartender could have helped by not serving him such a large amount of alcohol. But who controls how bartenders serve? Ultimately, doesn't it appear Fuzzy's was in a position to provide better training and supervision? To be fair, that last point is still a matter of dispute, but based upon the information in the public sphere, don't like their chances of winning that argument.
We're Relieved Because Bars Don't Always Answer for Their Role in Drunk Driving Crashes
I started out by saying why we're relieved that Fuzzy's Taco faces a lawsuit for their role in this incident. Let's discuss why my staff and I feel that way.
The Cervantes crash is just one of hundreds of wrecks every year where someone who is drunk gets behind the wheel and kills or severely injures someone. How do we know? Because my firm litigates more cases against bars whose unsafe service kills or injures someone than any other in Texas. Time and time again we see stories of families losing loved ones to crashes caused by drunk drivers, and in the majority of these incidents there is a bar behind the accident that is never held accountable.
While not every case involves a deceased police officer and his injured family (which explains some of the media attention in this case), take a second and think about how many serious drunk driving crashes you read about in a year. If you follow the news closely, you'll often read a blurb months later about the drunk driver facing consequences such as going to jail, but before this case, have you ever read about a bar being sued for their role in a drunk driving crash? I bet most people will say, "No, I've never read about a bar being sued." That's the problem that firms like mine attempt to solve, and that's why we're relieved when we see other firms taking action. Serving drunks isn't "a bartender's job." It's against the law and it destroys lives. Period.
Pursuing Every Viable Claim Against an Alleged Bad Bar Sends a Message
If we consider how Fuzzy's Taco, who has hundreds of locations, apparently hasn't gotten the message that it is unlawful to serve people who are obviously intoxicated, how many other places are equally oblivious? Fuzzy's being named in the Cervantes' lawsuit is important because it sends a clear message to other bars that don't follow the law: serving patrons who are already drunk is unacceptable behavior in Texas.
The Fuzzy's Taco incident may be the perfect example of why Texas law allows victims to sue bars for a loved one's death or their own injuries. Without the ability to hold bars accountable, why would we expect them to change their ways? If the allegations against Fuzzy's sway a jury, it will send the message that the days of serving drunks without consequences are over.