Vibram, maker of the ever-popular minimalist running shoes, FiveFingers, has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit that alleged the company made false promises to customers who purchased the shoes. The company guaranteed consumers “improved foot health” as well as fewer foot injuries as compared to its competitors in the running shoe market such as Saucony or Mizuno: makers of alternative minimalist running footwear. Vibram has agreed to refund 70 million American customers who purchased the shoes in the lawsuit totaling a whopping $3.75 million.
The suit was filed on March 2012 in Massachusetts by Valerie Bezdek, who argued that the company and creator of the glove-like footwear phenomenon deceived customers by advertising false claims that the shoes could reduce injuries and strengthen foot muscles without basing such claims on scientific merit. Similar class-action suits were additionally filed against the company in California and Illinois which were then added to Bezdek’s case.
The settlement consists of two parts: the first will refund class members who submit valid claim forms; and the second outlines conditions for Vibram to discontinue making any claim that FiveFingers footwear assists in strengthening muscles or reducing injury, unless the company can submit new scientific evidence proving otherwise.
Vibram has deposited $3.75 million into an escrow account that will hold funds to be distributed to those class members who submit a valid claim form for reimbursement. Customers must have purchased a pair of FiveFingers between March 21, 2009 and the date of the first dissemination of summary settlement notice or class notice, whichever may come first, and may be granted up to a maximum $94 refund. Realistically customers can expect to receive between $20 and $50 per pair.
Per the agreement, Vibram must also now create a website that informs class members of the terms of the agreement, in addition to posting banner ads containing updated settlement information on various websites to include runnersworld.com and Facebook.com. Should any amount of the $3.75 million placed in escrow remain after all claim reimbursements have been made and legal costs have been paid, the balance will then be donated to the American Heart Association to further research on the health benefits of running –a bit ironic for the company that fudged the benefits of FiveFingers for runners in the first place.