Vibram Faces Class-Action Lawsuit

In a class-action lawsuit, a Florida woman has accused Vibram USA Inc. and Vibram FiveFingers of making misleading claims about the health benefits of barefoot running in their shoes.

Valerie Bezdek, the plaintiff, is making claims for damages, attorneys’ fees and costs on behalf of “thousands, [although] the precise number of class members is unknown.”

According to court documents, Bezdek takes issue with Vibram’s claim that “scientific research” shows that their FiveFingers shoes, which range from about $80 to $125 per pair, will provide “all the health benefits of barefoot running” to anyone who runs in them and that traditional running shoes do not provide such health benefits. 

Having paid $104.90 for a pair of Vibram Bikila shoes on April 13, 2011, Bezdek alleges that Vibram’s claims are deceptive because FiveFingers are not proven to provide any of the health benefits beyond what conventional running shoes provide.

The suit suggests that running in FiveFingers may in fact “increase injury risk as compared to running in conventional running shoes, and even when compared to running barefoot.”

The suit goes on to quote from the American Podiatric Medical Association’s position on barefoot running, saying, “Research has not yet adequately shed light on the immediate and long-term effects of this practice. Barefoot running has been touted as improving strength and balance, while promoting a more natural running style. 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.”

Last year, Reebok International Ltd. refunded $25 million to customers after the Federal Trade Commission charged it with making deceptive claims that its toning shoes improved muscle tone. Another class-action suit filed in January 2011 alleged that Boston-based New Balance also overstates the benefits of its toning shoes.

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