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Vibram FiveFingers | Running | Lawsuit regarding natural running shoes
July 2014

FiveFingers settlement

raises questions

Vibram USA agreed to pay $3.75-m as settlement in order to avoid protracted litigation about the benefits of their FiveFingers shoes.

But, the company denies that their claims that the shoes reduce injury and strengthens muscles are unsubstantiated.

The lawsuit was brought against FiveFingers in March 2012 by a woman who claimed that Vibram’s marketing messages were deceptive and that claims about the benefit of the minimalist shoe cannot be supported by science. She objected to claims that they strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs; allow the foot and body to move naturally; improve the range of motion in the ankles, feet and toes; stimulate neuron function important to balance and agility; and eliminate heel lift to align the spine and improve posture.

This has again fuelled the debate around barefoot or minimalist running, that started after publication of books like Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run and studies from Daniel Lieberman’s Harvard-based Skeletial Biology Lab, among others, that less shoes cause less running injuries.

“We are left with many questions to answer about minimalist and barefoot running, and this is not an area that is dead and buried,” comments South African sport scientist Ross Tucker in his Science in Sport blog. “People must not make the mistake of confusing this settlement with a finding that barefoot or minimalist running actually cause injury. That has not been shown either way.”

In the above article, in which he cautions against making absolute declarations for or against minimalist shoes, Tucker warns about the message this lawsuit sends to brands claiming any benefits in advertising: “I felt the whole lawsuit was harsh, and the settlement places the blame on Vibram, and does little to acknowledge that people, quite frankly, showed a real lack of common sense in their uptake of this new way to run.”

Under the agreement Vibram will deposit $3.75-m into an escrow account, which will be distributed to US consumers who make claims on a website set up by Vibram. They also have to place banner ads on specified websites to alert consumers about the fund.

A fairness hearing will be held on October 29, 2014, when the Masacusetts court will decide if they will grant final approval of the settlement, including payment of about $1-m in legal fees.

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