Vibram USA Inc. has agreed to settle for $3.75 million a class action that challenged as wholly misleading the company’s marketing claims that running in its FiveFingers footwear brings an array of health benefits, including a reduced risk of injury.
Vibram’s advertising for the “minimalist” shoes, which can cost $125 and look like thin-soled foot gloves, touted the footwear as a way to strengthen muscles, promote spine alignment, stimulate neural function, reduce lower back pain and improve foot health. Promoting the shoes as providing the benefits of running barefoot without the risks, the company claims its pitches are backed up by scientific research.
But class plaintiff and Massachusetts resident Valerie Bezdek called the health and research claims false and deceptive, and cited an array of medical and other experts who said there is no reliable scientific proof to back any of them up. In fact, the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts complaint in Bezdek v. Vibram USA Inc. says the shoes can even increase the risk of injury because they change a runner’s gait.
In the proposed settlement agreement on filed April 30, Vibram denied wrongdoing but agreed to settle to avoid the additional expense and burden of further litigation.
The agreement estimates payment to class plaintiffs of between $20 and $50 per pair of shoes purchased, $937,000 in attorney fees and $2,500 to lead class plaintiffs.
Vibram also agreed to no longer claim health benefits for FiveFingers unless backed up by “competent and reliable scientific evidence.”
Plaintiffs’ attorneys include Janine Pollack, Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz; Glen Devalerio and Nathaniel Orenstein, Berman Devalerio; Timothy Blood and Thomas O’Reardon II, Blood Hurst & O’Reardon; and James Shah, Shepherd, Finkelman, Miller & Shah.
Vibram’s attorneys are Christopher Morrison and Dana Baiocco, Jones Day.
Lisa Hoffman contributes to law.com.