When the Mt. Laurel Pool in Hazleton, Pennsylvania closed, the community was devastated. “A lot of kids lived for that. They loved it,” says Paul Wanuga, a Hazleton resident. “And it was good because it kept kids out of trouble” in a community where residents say there is too much vandalism and crime. But a lawsuit shuttered the pool, and the once pristine facility is now in shambles.
The pool and its founder, Evelyn Graham, welcomed thousands of swimmers every summer for more than ten years. Mt. Laurel Pool provided a gathering place for families and neighbors and summer jobs for teenagers. One former lifeguard says, “When you’re younger, it is difficult to find a place of employment, and Evelyn gave us that opportunity to have a place to learn good work ethics.”
One summer, despite rules painted on the sidewalk and a warning from the lifeguard, a man ran and jumped into the pool, cutting his heel. “There was nothing we did wrong. He did it to himself,” the pool manager says. The lifeguard and manager cleaned and bandaged the cut, and the manager recalls that he said “It’s nothing. It’s just a little cut… No problem.”
But, later, Mt. Laurel Pool was sued. The man and his wife claimed $100,000 for the injury, and Graham’s lawyers recommended that she settle what she considered to be a wildly frivolous case. She was baffled, and, fearing copy cat lawsuits, she decided to close the pool.
In the end, it was the community that suffered most. Hazleton families no longer have a place to swim, and everyone from the ticket takers to the management lost their jobs. “They sue when they shouldn’t sue,” Wanuga says. “But then we have lawyers who thrive on it. They love it. They wish you would sue, too.”
“I’m sure they have other motives in mind,” says a former lifeguard, “but they can’t possibly take into consideration what it’s doing to everybody else.”