Dams can be very valuable structures. They can control the flow of water during times of unusual dryness or higher than average precipitation. They can uncover arable land for farming and facilitate sports. They even generate electricity.
However, dams can also create unsafe situations. Especially for those who like to boat recreationally or swim on Indiana waterways, dams can be dangerous. Low head dams, in particular, can cause severe injuries when water levels are high, such as in the spring.
Some people call low head dams “drowning machines”
People often think of dams as safe because these man-made structures are stable and sturdy. However, when water levels rise over a low head damn, they create a powerful current of water that can pull in people who are in small vessels as well as swimmers.
When someone encounters such a current, they may get swept off course or even pulled underwater. If someone doesn’t have a proper flotation device or get help from someone not trapped in the current, drowning is possible.
According to research about the safety of low head dams, they caused at least 111 deaths between 2018 and 2020. Others may have experienced a near-drowning incident that may have left them with other injuries, like a brain injury due to oxygen deprivation. Indiana saw 25 documented deaths near or at low head dams between 2010 and 2020, along with another 17 who suffered injuries. The state also recorded 50 rescues during those years.
Pursuing a personal injury claim may be an option for someone hurt by a low head dam or while trying to rescue someone trapped by one.