Vibram Agrees to Settle Class Action Over Its FiveFingers Shoes

Vibram, the manufacturer of the popular FiveFingers running shoes, has agreed to settle a class action suit (Bezdek v. Vibram USA Inc., No. 12 Civ. 10513 (D. Mass.)), which claimed that it made false health claims about its shoes. This settlement is another in a line of settlements by shoe companies who falsely advertised that their exercise shoes provide health benefits to consumers.

In March 2012, a consumer filed a class action suit against Vibram in the District of Massachusetts alleging that the FiveFingers shoes she purchased did not provide the advertised health benefits and that the company made money off their claims that the shoes provided a superior, more natural footwear experience. The consumer claimed that the company’s marketing would help prevent injuries and strengthen their muscles more than walking around in regular shoes.

The settlement consists of two kinds of relief. First, Vibram will deposit $3.75 million into an escrow account to be distributed to class members who purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers shoes between March 21, 2009 and the date of the first dissemination of summary settlement notice or class notice, whichever is earlier. FiveFingers will reimburse consumers up to a maximum of $94 per pair, although the agreement acknowledges that based on similar settlements, it is reasonable for class members to expect to receive between $20 and $50 per pair. If any portion of the $3.75 million remains after the claim payments have been distributed and all administrative and legal costs have been paid, the balance will be donated to the American Heart Association for research on the health benefits of running.

Vibram has also agreed to stop making any claims that FiveFingers footwear is effective in strengthening muscles or reducing injury in its marketing and advertising campaigns, unless the company discovers new scientific evidence that proves the claims.

Take away:  The settlement illustrates the importance of having scientific or factual data to support specific health or safety claims in advertising. We therefore advise companies to be certain there is support for and truth to the claims they make about products, especially when tied to health related benefits that could mislead or deceive consumers.

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