Refunds for toe shoes owners after maker settles false advertising suit

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Vibram USA agreed to a $3.75 million settlement on May 12, 2014, after being hit with a lawsuit that alleged the company advertised these FiveFingers toe shoes offered health benefits without providing scientific evidence to back those claims.

NORTH BROOKFIELD, Mass. — Remember when the company making those webbed shoes told consumers that simulating the process of running barefoot would be beneficial to your health?

It turns out that may not be entirely true.

Vibram USA, which make the FiveFingers shoes in question, has agreed to a $3.75 million settlement after a class-action lawsuit was filed against the company accusing the shoe manufacturers of misleading customers, according to Runner’s World.

The lawsuit was filed by Valerie Bezdek in early 2012 and claimed the company used deceptive marketing practices and false advertising when it came to five claims about the shoes. Specifically, that they…

  1. strengthened muscles in the feet and lower legs,
  2. improved range of motion in the ankles, feet and toes,
  3. stimulated neutral function important to balance and agility,
  4. eliminated heel lift to align the spine and improve posture and
  5. allowed the foot and body to move naturally.

Among the contrary evidence presented was testimony from the American Podiatric Medicine Association, which suggested the FiveFingers shoes might actually be harmful to a runner’s health.

“Barefoot running has been touted as importing strength and balance, while promoting a more natural running style,” the associate wrote. “However, risks of barefoot running include a lack of protection, which may lead to injuries such as puncture wounds, and increased stress on the lower extremities.”

Some runners have come to Vibram’s aid, including Atlantic writer James Fallows, who said he was a happy FiveFingers customer and said he still believes the shoes are a great fit for certain runners.

“If you already run in the way these shoes favor, or if you’re able to shift your gait to a ‘forefoot-strike’ style, they’re great,” Fallows wrote. “And if not, they’re not great.

“The shoes were — are — right for some people, including me, and wrong for others. It’s a big world.”

At least some of those who are disappointed in the shoes can fill out paperwork to receive a refund, according to Runner’s World. In particular, customers who purchased a pair of FiveFingers shoes after March 2009 are entitled to a partial refund of up to $94 per pair.

However, Runner’s World went on to indicate that the more likely payout per pair of shoes will be between $20 and $50, based on data from similar settlements in the past.

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2 comments

  • Adam

    Whether this is right or wrong i can’t say–I DO know that I own a small chain of stores and have had numerous customers ask about this–I have not had a single sale on my 500+ pairs of Vibrams since this story broke and want the company to do something to help out (allow a partial return or help with marketing materials or something) as I have over 10K in inventory that I fear I am going to lose out on

    • Anonymous

      Send me a list of your inventory for ladies sz 41 I’m using my refund to buy more. I love these shoes! Everyone I know that wears them love them. A class action suit for false advertising is pure politics. If the shoe feels good, buy them and support this company. My only complaint, not enough stores carry them. A Happy Five Finger Toe supporter.

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