The sunset camel rides advertised on TripAdvisor’s Viator website offer a leisurely guided tour through the Moroccan desert, with breathtaking views and stops at a traditional berber house for a snack over mint tea.
But in a new lawsuit, a New Jersey woman claims that serene image was just a mirage. Instead, she was placed on a pregnant, runaway camel that broke away from the tour and tossed her to the ground, resulting in serious injuries.
In the lawsuit filed Monday in Norfolk Superior Court, Breanne Ayala, 24, accused Needham-based TripAdvisor and its San Francisco-based subsidiary Viator of negligence and breach of contract for failing to ensure the tour company was operating safely.
“They put her on a pregnant camel and it’s a month away from giving birth,” said Milton attorney Andrew Abraham, who represents Ayala. As the camel ran away, Ayala was “hanging on the side and then fell off,” he said.
She broke her arm and underwent surgery in Morocco after doctors told her she would have permanent nerve damage if she didn’t, he said.
The lawsuit alleged that TripAdvisor and Viator should have known that the company, which was not identified, was using camels “which they knew to be untrained and in unsafe physical condition.”
Molly Burke, a spokeswoman for TripAdvisor and Viator, said, “We do not comment on pending litigation.”
According to its website, Viator helps travelers research and book more than 200,000 activities worldwide and provides customer reviews, but doesn’t operate the tours and is not responsible for any problems related to them.
When customers book a tour through the website, they are required to agree to the company’s terms of service, which specify that interactions with tour “suppliers” come “at your own risk.”
“Viator will have no liability with respect to the acts, omissions, errors, representations, warranties, breaches or negligence of any supplier or for any personal injuries, death, property damage, or other damages or expenses resulting from your interactions with any supplier,” the terms state.
But Abraham said TripAdvisor and Viator make money by booking customers on tours and have a responsibility to make sure the excursions are safe.
“What was supposed to happen didn’t happen, and I don’t think you can say, ‘It’s at your own risk, too bad,’ ” Abraham said. “I don’t think it’s fair and it’s not the law.”
When Ayala and her family arrived for the Jan. 3, 2018, sunset camel tour in Marrakesh, Morocco, they were not given a safety briefing as was promised when they booked the excursion on Viator, according to the lawsuit.
Each camel kneeled so the riders could mount them, except for Ayala’s, tafehe lawsuit stated. She was lifted onto a camel that remained standing. The handlers said the camel wouldn’t kneel because it was “too old to be trained” when the company bought it, according to the lawsuit.
“They generally get down so you can jump on them,” Abraham said. “This one didn’t get down.”
The camels were tied together in a caravan during the tour, which was supposed to end at a spot where a van would pick up the riders. But after 45 minutes, the tourists were told the van was not going to show up and they would have to ride the camels back, according to the lawsuit. Ayala again climbed onto the standing camel.
One of the handlers told Ayala that her camel was pregnant and would be giving birth in about a month, according to the lawsuit.
“When Ms. Ayala and her family asked why the company was using a pregnant camel for their tours, the handlers just laughed,” the suit stated.
On the return trip, Ayala’s camel broke away from caravan and ran away, causing Ayala to fall and fracture her upper right arm, the lawsuit stated.
Ayala’s family insisted that the handlers call an ambulance immediately, but they waited to make the call until the tour company owner arrived an hour later, according to the lawsuit. Ayala was hospitalized for two days, the lawsuit stated.
The suit is seeking unspecified damages, estimating that Ayala’s medical costs will exceed $120,000, including the treatment she received in Morocco, follow-up surgery, and physical therapy.
In December, TripAdvisor and Viator settled a lawsuit filed by a woman who broke her wrist in 2017 during an ATV tour in Cozumel she booked through Viator. The woman, also from New Jersey, said the trip was advertised as a tour of a scenic beach, but instead took her over “dangerous, treacherous, and uneven terrain.” She said she was thrown off the ATV when it tipped over, resulting in permanent injuries to her wrist.
A federal judge in Boston dismissed that suit in December after lawyers said they had settled the case. Details of the settlement were not disclosed.