The operator of the Old Country Buffet chain says it should not be required to pay an $11.4 million award to a man who was sickened at a branch in 2010 because any liability was in effect dismissed by the company’s 2012 bankruptcy filing.
The challenge of the court award, handed down several weeks ago, marks Ovation Brands’ first attempt to defend itself in the legal matter, according to media reports. The defense table was empty during the yearlong trial, observers noted. Lawyers for Ovation said no defense was mustered because of confusion about who was actually the defendant in the matter.
The recent filings by lawyers for Ovation are the latest developments in a tragedy that began with a visit to the company-run Old Country Buffet in Casper, Wyo., by Chris and Heather Gage. Chris was sickened afterward with what was determined to be the salmonella bacteria. Complications developed in part because Gage had undergone surgery three years earlier.
Gage and his wife maintain that his motor, speech and cognitive skills were permanently damaged. The state court agreed and awarded the pair the damage payment.
Ovation argued in filings earlier this month that the state had no jurisdiction over the company because its presence in Wyoming was negligible. The Wyoming store had closed.
They also note that Ovation had secured protection from creditors and financial liabilities in its bankruptcy filing. Chapter 11 bankruptcies typically discharge the bulk of a company’s financial burdens and reorganize the concern so that it can resume operations.
At the time of the bankruptcy, Old Country Buffet was operated by Buffets Inc. That company subsequently changed its name to Ovation Brands.
Ovation was acquired in August by Food Management Partners, a restaurant-chain holding company, for an undisclosed amount.