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Judge considers setting aside $11.37 million judgment

Ovation Brands Inc. wants a federal judge to set aside a $11.37 million default judgment a Salmonella victim received after the restaurant company’s lawyers failed to appear in court.

The request is pending in Wyoming before U.S. District Court Judge Scott W. Skavdahl, who heard oral arguments on the defense motion Jan. 7.

At that hearing the judge granted 60 days for attorneys for Ovation Brands and plaintiffs Chris and Heather Gage to conduct depositions. Both sides want to question Old Country Buffetthe person who produced restaurant inspection reports for Sept. 30, 2010, and March 30, 2011, at the Country Buffet restaurant in Cheyenne, Wy.

Chris Gage believes he suffered permanent physical damage from a Salmonella infection he contends he acquired while dining at that restaurant in October 2010. Other people who ate at the restaurant during that time also reported becoming sick.

According to the complaint filed against Ovation Brands, Chris Gage has suffered from persistent nausea, vomiting, balance and coordination issues, cognitive deficits, emotional control, speech and language problems since the 2010 infection.

The Gages, who live in Bridgeport, Neb., and dined at the restaurant while traveling, won the $11.37 million default damages in late 2015.

After the judgement was entered, Ovation Brands attorneys said there had been a communication breakdown with their risk management office in Eagan, Minn. It was apparently assumed the Gage claim fell under a bankruptcy proceeding or was in the hands of an insurance carrier.

The attorneys who eventually appeared to defend Ovation Brands said the default judgement should be set aside.

At the Jan. 7 hearing, Judge Skavdahl gave attorneys for the Gages permission to depose Wyoming licensing authorities. He also ordered attorneys from both sides to file supplemental briefs on the “issues of personal jurisdiction and notice/responsibility for the (Old Country Buffet) operation.”

The restaurant operated in the Frontier Mall in Cheyenne from 1993 to 2013, but there is confusion about its names and ownership at various times. It is usually referred to as the Country Buffet or Old Country Buffet in government documents.

Based in Eagan, Minn., Ovation Brands Inc., currently owns the Country Buffet and Old Country Buffet brands.  It operates 350 buffet restaurants in 35 states.

 

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