Vibram, maker of those funky FiveFingers running shoes, has reached a settlement in a suit over the shoes' supposed health benefits.
The shoe manufacturer has agreed to shell out $3.75 million in settlement funds to be distributed to eligible class action members. According to Runner's World, the average class member will receive between $20 to $50 per pair.
What was the issue with the FiveFingers shoes, and how is this settlement going to fix the problem?
False Health Claims in Shoes
Back in March 2012, a class action suit was filed against Vibram for allegedly making claims that its FiveFinger shoes could "reduce foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles." Professor John C. P. Goldberg told Runner's World that this initial lawsuit asserted that Vibram knew their claims were false but continued to profit from this misrepresentation.
As legitimate advertisers know, there is a difference between a subjective claim (e.g., "our product is the best for runners!") and illegal claims with no science to back them up. Adidas was sued around the same time for its adiPure "barefoot" running shoe because of its spurious health claims.
And other shoe companies had already begun to settle. In 2011, the FTC ordered Reebok to pay $25 million in a settlement over unsupported health claims in its EasyTone and Run Tone shoes.
The setting aside of $3.75 million is only part of Vibram's settlement agreement. The company must also:
- Set up a website, www.fivefingerssettlement.com, to inform class members of the terms of the settlement (as of Thursday afternoon, the site is not yet active);
- Discontinue claims that FiveFingers is "effective in strengthening muscles or reducing injury," unless there is scientific evidence to support those claims;
- Deliver about 300 million impressions through banner ads with settlement information on websites and social media;
- Donate remainder of settlement funds to American Heart Association; and
- Pay $70,000 to plaintiffs' attorneys for out-of-pocket expenses.
Runner's World reports that it's possible for FiveFingers owners to receive up to $94 per pair in the settlement, and claimants can ask for a piece of the settlement without a proof of purchase (for up to two pairs).
As with most settlements, this agreement will release Vibram from liability for its alleged FiveFingers false advertising, except from those owners who opted out.
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