The federal government, Connecticut and 42 other states want the public to know that simply sporting a pair of Skechers’ fitness shoes is not going to get you Kim Kardashian’s curves or Brooke Burke’s toned tush.
Skechers USA Inc., a Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based shoe company, will pay $50 million to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission, 43 states and the District of Columbia that the footwear company made unfounded claims that its Shape-ups shoes would help people lose weight and strengthen their rear end, leg and stomach muscles. Kardashian, Burke and other celebrities endorsed the shoes in Skechers ads.
Per the settlement agreement, $40 million will be paid to the FTC in consumer refunds, another $5 million will go to the states and D.C., and $5 million more will go towards attorney fees as part of the settlement. Once approved by the court, Connecticut’s share of the settlement would be $88,208.
“I’m pleased to participate in this settlement, which will help to reimburse consumers who relied on the company’s claims in making their purchases,” Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in a written statement.
Jepsen, in a press release, explained that Skechers did not have adequate support for its claims that shoe products with rocker bottoms — that is, soles curved like the bottom of a tire — caused consumers to lose weight, burn calories, improve circulation, fight cellulite, and firm, tone or strengthen thigh, buttock and back muscles.
Representing Connecticut in the case was Assistant Attorney General Thomas Saadi.
While Skechers did not admit wrongdoing and denied the factual allegations asserted in the complaint, the settlement prohibits Skechers from making the fitness claims without adequate substantiation.
“Skechers could not ignore the exorbitant cost and endless distraction of several years spent defending multiple lawsuits in multiple courts across the country,” said David Weinberg, Skechers’ chief financial officer, in a statement. “While we believe we could have prevailed in each of these cases, to do so would have imposed an unreasonable burden on the company.”
The settlement also involves the company’s Resistance Runner, Toners, and Tone-ups shoes and claims of deceptive advertising for those shoes as well.
Consumers who bought the shoes would be eligible for refunds, though it’s not clear how much they will get. The FTC says that will depend on how many claims are received in the eight-month filing period. Buyers can go to the FTC web site to file a claim.
Skechers billed its Shape-ups as a fitness tool designed to promote weight loss and tone muscles with the shoes’ curved, rocker bottoms. The company said the design provides natural instability and caused consumers to “use more energy with every step.” Shape-ups cost about $100 and are sold at retailers nationwide.
Ads for the Resistance Runner shoes claimed people who wear them could increase “muscle activation” by up to 85 percent for posture-related muscles and 71 percent for muscles in the buttocks, said the FTC.
The company claims it has received enthusiastic feedback from thousands of consumers about the shoes.
Reebok, which made Easy Tone shoes, paid $25 million last year to resolve similar FTC claims. It, too, denied any wrongdoing. The settlement proceeds went primarily to reimbursing consumers who had bought the shoes, which cost between $60 and $100 per pair.
In the aftermath of the false advertising settlement, Skechers may be in more hot water. Hundreds more personal injury lawsuits have been filed against the company across the country for the same toning shoes. The plaintiffs claim that, rather than providing an easy way to slim down, the round-bottomed shoes are dangerously unstable, resulting in broken ankles, busted knees, even head injuries.
Thirty cases alone were consolidated in Kentucky last December, 60 other plaintiffs’ cases were filed in California.
A plaintiff from Arkansas bought a pair of the toning shoes after seeing advertising that just wearing and walking in them could help her shed a few pounds. But while walking in them, she fell to the ground breaking both her ankles. “I screamed so loud I was embarrassed,” said the 45-year-old woman Lisa Fuller, who said she had never broken a bone before. “I now warn people not to buy those shoes.”
In response to the personal injury complaints, Skechers says it lacks sufficient information to form an opinion about the truth of the claims and denied the allegations outright — standard responses in the early stages of litigation. The company also has asserted affirmative defenses including statute of limitations, assumption of risk, misuse by the consumer and unforeseeable injuries.
The Associated Press and the National Law Journal, which shares the same corporate parent as the Connecticut Law Tribune, contributed to this report.