Midland County Dam Failures

Predictable. Preventable. Punishable.

No three words describe the disaster of the Edenville and Sanford Lake Dams collapse better.

  • Predictable: In 2018, federal regulators determined that Edenville Dam owner Boyce Hydro, LLC displayed a “long-term failure to comply with dam safety and other requirements.” They revoked the company's license out of concern that the spillway couldn’t pass sufficient water to avoid failure during a historic flood. After days of heavy rain, the dam collapsed.
  • Preventable: Proper repairs and upkeep to the dams and the overflow water systems would have prevented this tragedy from occurring.
  • Punishable: We have filed lawsuits to bring the guilty parties to justice and to demand real compensation for the losses caused by this disaster.

Of course, this could not have come at a worse time for any of us. Shelter-in-place restrictions due to the COVID pandemic have made travel and interactions all the more difficult. Now the people of Edenville, Sanford, and parts of Midland are saddled with the trauma of losing their homes and possessions.

Jenner Law has partnered with the law firms of Morgan & Morgan and Grant & Eisenhofer to bring the guilty parties to justice. Together, we have filed one of the first class action complaints in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The case has been assigned to The Honorable Thomas L. Ludington who sits in Bay City.

If you have lost a home, a business, or suffered substantial damage to your property because of the dam failures, give us a call. We can help you obtain compensation with personalized attention to your claim.

What Can I Do to Stay Safe Right Now?

First things first: It’s important that you and your family are safe. The city of Midland has asked approximately 10,000 residents to evacuate as the flooding worsens. If you are in the area but unable to stay with family or friends, you can head to one of the following shelters:

  • West Midland Family Center - 4011 W. Isabella Road
  • Midland High School - 1301 Eastlawn Drive
  • Bullock Creek High School - 1420 S. Badour Road (pet friendly)
  • Coleman High School - 4951 N. Lewis Road
  • North Midland Family Center - 2601 E. Shearer Road (pet friendly)

Red Cross teams are in the field surveying damaged homes and working with local emergency management to assess the impact of the flooding and additional needs in the affected communities. The disaster emergency relief phone number is 1-800-774-6066. See also https://www.redcross.org/local/michigan/about-us.html

What Went Wrong?

Dams provide significant benefits to the nation, serving as critical infrastructure to deliver water retention and control throughout the United States. Major cities could not function without the fresh water supply stored in dammed reservoirs. Dams, when kept in good operating order, protect communities against destructive flood impacts while providing navigable waters for transportation, irrigation for agriculture, and various opportunities for recreation. While dams provide many essential services, dam failure flooding can present significant risks to property and life. Over decades of experience, dam safety practices, including risk assessment, have evolved as engineering knowledge, scientific understanding, and technological advancements have grown.

In order to assess the Edenville Dam disaster, our experts will evaluate the following:

  • Probabilistic engineering analysis methods for assessing dam stability and integrity
  • Reliability of key components such as gates, gate hoists, valves, and so forth
  • Systems analysis approaches
  • Reliability of operational and emergency procedures
  • Methods for estimating breach initiation and the progression and propagation of uncertainties

Who Is Responsible for the Dam Collapse?

Lots of rumors and “chatter” have been flying across the internet. Some people want to blame the politicians; others just say it was an “act of God.” As far as we can tell, neither of those are true. Here’s what we know so far.

In general terms, the owner of a dam is responsible for its maintenance. The owner must keep the dam in general repair by maintaining and operating it safely. If the owner fails to do that, the owner may be liable to citizens and businesses that get harmed.

You’re likely wondering who is responsible for all of this damage. Generally speaking, the owner of a dam is responsible for its upkeep. If they fail to repair, maintain, or operate the dam safely, they may be liable for any ensuing damages to.

What we know is that the owners of these of the Edenville Dam had been cited several times for failing to keep the dam in good operating condition. In 2018, federal regulators determined that Edenville Dam owner Boyce Hydro, LLC displayed a “long-term failure to comply with dam safety and other requirements.” They revoked the company's license out of concern that the spillway couldn’t pass sufficient water to avoid failure during a historic flood. After days of heavy rain – certainly predictable in Michigan -- the dam collapsed.

Can I sue the responsible parties?

Under Michigan law, you can bring suit against the owners and operators of the dam for negligence. Negligence is the failure to use reasonable care under the circumstances. In order to determine if negligence occurred, we obtain copies of construction documents, communications with government entities, the history of inspections and failure reports, and the like. We retain the best civil and environmental safety experts in the world to investigate the state-of-practice dam safety procedures and whether the owners of the Edenville Dam complied with those procedures. Repairing and keeping a dam maintained is costly. But cost is simply not a good enough excuse when the lives and property of a community are at risk. Dam owners need to ensure that their spillway systems and repaired and upgraded despite the large costs involved. Were operational and monitoring systems in effect? Were modern sensor and control systems in place? These are things that must be investigated.

Our experts will look at the series of events caused by the adverse combination of weather, aging infrastructure, employee training, and notice given to the company that the dam was in disrepair. These factors, along with others, are looked out with exquisite attention to detail. Were the dam owners and operators using the right SCADA systems (supervisory control and data acquisition), a computer system for gathering and analyzing real time data that are used to monitor and control a plant or equipment in industry? Were there correct operational and maintenance practices, design flaws, construction compromises, deterioration, outside disturbances and other factors that were overlooked at the time of the design?


We only handle cases on a contingency fee basis—we charge no fees or expenses unless there is a recovery in the case.

If you suffered personal or financial harm as a result of the dam failures, you may have grounds for a lawsuit against the owner. Provided the owner failed to act in a reasonably safe and prudent manner given the circumstances, they may have been negligent – that is, legally responsible for the outcome.

Negligence can be established through records of inspections, lack of compliance with local and state regulations, and other evidence. The attorneys at Jenner Law are here to help and provide you the personal attention you deserve.

Jenner Law brings its extensive knowledge of safety codes and modern technology to the investigation of catastrophic construction failure cases. We exhaustively search safety records, take comprehensive depositions and employ the use of video technology and computer animation to illustrate how each accident happened and its impact on our clients.

In these complex cases, we rely upon both our experience and the insight developed by leading construction safety experts to determine what went wrong.

If you would like to speak to an experienced workplace injury attorney, give us a call. The call and the consultation are free.