Liability and Legal Considerations
The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) notes in its brochure 'Dam Failure and Owner Liability' that there are approximately 10 to 20 dam failures each year in the United States. Many of these result in catastrophic impact on communities, private property, and public works downstream, including loss of life. No dam owner wants that calamity to involve his dam.
Owner liability varies from state to state depending on statutes, regulations and case law. However, the concept of strict liability falls heavily on the dam owner for damages regardless of the cause of the failure.
Missouri's State Emergency Management Agency noted in its October 2008 Missouri Hazard Analysis that 'Dam owners have the primary responsibility for the safe design, operation, and maintenance of their dams. They also have responsibility for providing early warning of problems at the dam, for developing an effective Emergency Action Plan, and for coordinating that plan with local officials.'
Learn Owner Liability
When assessing the liability of the owner and the potential for negligence, the standard of care the dam owner should have taken will be weighed against the downstream hazards. Compliance with government regulations and professional standards, such as the Missouri mandate that dam owners prepare EAPs on their HHP dams, establishes a minimum standard of care to be followed by the owners.
ASDSO notes that to manage risks and control potential loss an owner will need to provide employee training, regular maintenance, emergency preparedness, and liability insurance. Each Missouri dam should have:
- A state dam safety permit.
- An operation plan, documented regular maintenance plan, and Emergency Action Plan.
- Documented periodic inspections.
- Warning signs and controlled access.