While the jury may still be out on the benefits and risks of barefoot running shoes, it will never meet to hear the case against Vibram USA.
The company, which makes FiveFingers running shoes, has agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging Vibram made false and unsubstantiated claims regarding the health benefits of its products. Though they settled the case, according to court documents, “Vibram expressly denied and continues to deny any wrongdoing alleged in the Actions, and neither admits nor concedes any actual or potential fault, wrongdoing or liability.”
Valerie Bezdek brought the suit against Vibram over two years ago in March 2012. She alleged Vibram deceived its customers through advertising which claimed the shoes could reduce foot injuries and strengthen the foot muscles. According to Bezdek these claims were made without any scientific backing and without scientific merit.
There has been plenty of debate about barefoot running shoes in recent years as they’ve become more popular. Some runners swear by them and attribute wearing them to fewer injuries, while others warn against wearing them on all but perfect surfaces.
Bezdek was not the only one to raise concerns about Vibram’s advertising of the FiveFingers running shoes. Other similar class action suits were filed against the company, and were absorbed into Bezdek’s case.
By settling, Vibram has agreed to deposit $3.75 million into an escrow account. That money will then be distributed among valid class members who purchased a pair of the Vibram FiveFingers running shoes since March 21, 2009. Vibram has agreed to refund up to $94 per pair, though those claiming a refund should expect to receive between $20 and $50.
Beyond refunds, Vibram has also agreed to stop making any claims in marketing or advertising stating their FiveFingers shoes are effective in strengthening foot muscles or reducing injury. However, if the company discovers new scientific evidence proving those claims, they may start using them again.
If you think you are affected by this settlement, you can check the website Vibram has been asked to establish, fivefingerssettlement.com (though currently it’s an empty domain). The site will have information about the settlement and terms of the agreement. Vibram is also required to post banner ads with the settlement information on many sites including Runner’s World and Facebook.
Image from vibramfivefingers.com