Shoes Are Not Magic: Vibram Agrees To $3.75 Million Class Action Settlement

Even runners, people who spend lots of time pushing themselves physically through all sorts of weather, are susceptible to the idea that one special product can provide near-magical advantages. Vibram USA has settled a class-action lawsuit alleging that they marketed their weird-looking Five Fingers shoes as providing physical benefits for which they have no evidence.

This Vibram legal saga began in March of 2012, when a customer filed a class action lawsuit against the company. She alleged that the Five Fingers shoes she had purchased a year before didn’t provide the advertised benefits, and that Vibram made a lot of money off their claims that the shoes provided a superior, more natural footwear experience. The company’s marketing, she claimed, said that the shoes would help prevent injuries and strengthen their muscles more than walking around in regular shoes.

The idea came from a form of the naturalistic fallacy: that since our ancestors ran barefoot, that it’s a good idea for everyone. Most people who can afford a few hundred dollars for running shoes learned to walk and run wearing stuff on their feet, and barefoot-ish running doesn’t give us those benefits. Neither does barefoot-ish walking around.

It’s fine for a product to make claims like that if they have solid evidence to back it up. They cannot pretend that this evidence exists and then make it up by, for example, quoting a chiropractor who happens to be the spouse of an executive at your company. While one is a class action suit and the other is a settlement for consumers resulting from a Federal Trade Commission

Vibram, of course, doesn’t agree that they’ve done anything wrong. “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,” says the federal court brief, according to Runners World.

Skechers has moved on from the Shape-Ups scandal, even sponsoring and providing footwear for the winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon. Shape-Ups are still on the market, and Five Fingers will stay on the market too: the company just shouldn’t attribute any special powers to them without scientific evidence unless they want the Federal Trade Commission to start paying attention.

If you own Five Fingers, you can’t file your claim yet: if you’re reading this post in the future, there will be a site at fivefingerssettlement.com, but it isn’t live as of this posting. Customers can receive up to $94 per pair, but will probably end up receiving something like $20-50 per pair.

Vibram Agrees to Settle Class Action Lawsuit [Runners World] (via Deadspin)