Vibram USA, the company that makes FiveFingers running shoes, has agreed to settle a lawsuit that alleged the company made false and unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits of its glove-like footwear.
According to the court filings, Vibram settled to put the matter to rest and avoid any additional legal expenses. “Vibram expressly denied and continues to deny any wrongdoing alleged in the Actions, and neither admits nor concedes any actual or potential fault, wrongdoing or liability,” read the court brief.
Valerie Bezdek, plaintiff, alleged that Vibram deceived consumers by advertising that the footwear could reduce foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles, without basing those assertions on any scientific merit. Subsequent class action suits were filed against Vibram in California and Illinois, and those were absorbed into Bezdek’s case.
The settlement consists of two kinds of relief. The first is refunds to class members who submit valid and completed claim forms. Vibram will deposit $3.75 million into an escrow account and those funds will be distributed to those valid class members who purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers between March 21, 2009 and the date of the first dissemination of summary settlement notice or class notice, whichever is earlier. FiveFingers will award up to a maximum of $94 per pair, though the agreement acknowledges that based on similar settlements it is reasonable for class members to expect to receive between $20 and $50 per pair.
Class members can submit a claim for up to two pairs of shoes without any kind of receipt or proof of purchase. (However, FiveFingers can request a verification of purchase should they decide to do so in an effort to prevent against possible fraud.) Anyone who seeks to recover payment on more than two pairs of footwear must submit both a valid claim form and proof of purchase.
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.
For the second part of the settlement, Vibram has agreed to discontinue to make 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 it.
Vibam is required to establish a website, www.fivefingerssettlement.com, to inform class members of the terms of the agreement. The company is also required to post banner ads with the settlement information on a number of websites, including runnersworld.com and Facebook.com, in order to deliver approximately 300,000,000 impressions.
Per the court agreement, the attorneys for the class members can receive up to 25% of the $3.75 million settlement, or $937,500. Vibram must pay up to an additional $70,000 of reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the plaintiff’s counsel in relation to this case.