Do Vibram's Five Fingers 'barefoot' glove shoes reduce your risk of foot injuries and strengthen your foot muscles? Whether they do or not, the company can no longer say they do.
It has settled a class action suit that alleged it made false and unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of its footwear. Vibram, as is the custom with class action suit settlements, says it "neither admits nor concedes any actual or potential fault, wrongdoing or liability."
Under the settlement, Vibram will pay $3.75 million that will be distributed to qualified purchasers of Vibram Five Fingers. Individual disbursements are likely to be between $20 and $50 per pair, but can go to a maximum of $94.
Class members can submit claims for up to two pairs of the footwear without a receipt though the company retains the right to spot check claims for proof of purchase. Claims involving more than two pairs will need to be submitted with documented evidence of purchase.
Any monies left over after the disbursements and legal costs will be donated to the American Heart Association for its research into the health benefits of running. Vibram has also agreed to no longer make claims in its advertising and marketing materials that its shoes reduce injury or strengthen muscles unless it discovers new scientific data to support such claims.
Valerie Bezdek brought the original suit in March 2012, about a year after she bought a pair of Five Fingers. She filed in Massachusetts, where the Italian company has its U.S. headquarters. Similar suits in Illinois and California were subsequently subsumed into hers.
The settlement is unlikely to do much to settle the continuing and passionate dispute between advocates of the low heel minimalist shoe movement and its skeptics.
See also: Is the Barefoot Minimalist Trend Over?
This is not the first time that shoemakers have settled suits about the health benefits of their footwear. Both Reebok and Skechers reached out of court settlements in recent years concerning their toning shoes without admitting any wrongdoing.
Full details of Vibram's settlement will be posted on a website it will be setting up, www.fivefingerssettlement.com.