Perhaps you have heard, maybe you haven’t: there was a class action law suit filed against Vibram Five Fingers (you know the weird foot gloves people run in) for falsely advertising the health benefits of their shoes. You can find the article here: VFF Class Action.
I’m not one to support corporate American and shout praises for Monsanto, Nike, Ford and the like, but at the same time, a lawsuit like this drives me nuts. Yes big corporations need to be held accountable (I understand VFF is not a ‘big’ corporation, but they’ve made some decent cash). At the same time that corporations need to be held accountable, so do people. This lawsuit was over VFF making claims that their shoes would lead to fewer injuries, better posture, and stronger muscles. The lawyer leading the charge said that this is not the case when compared to running barefoot. I don’t know the exactness of the ads that were misleading or how misleading they were, but it sounds like there might have been a bit of mincing words.
I would assume that almost anyone knows that advertisements are meant to sell things. Sometimes they sell us things we need, sometimes they sell us things we don’t need, sometimes they sell us junk, sometimes it’s a quality product, the bottom line is that they convince us of our needs. That is what VFF did. Perhaps they used words that were misleading, but in my experience, it doesn’t seem like a flat out lie. It seems like the same generic claims of any other shoe company proclaiming their shoes will help you run faster or jump higher. How about adverts that use air brushed perfection to market a product? Are their claims any different? For me, their silent manipulation is more nefarious than the words.
In the end, VFF settled for $3.5 million rather than go to court, citing that they wanted to “avoid the expense and uncertainty of trial.” Of that $3.5, I’m sure a hefty sum went to the lawyers in charge. I’m also guessing that the Massachusetts justice system probably has some more pressing matters… Again, I know VFF were sort of in the wrong with their “lies,” but I think they could have won in court. I once heard, a good statistician can justify either side of an argument given the same numbers. But they settled and that’s that- but the fact that this even went to court and that there are even people who will put in for a claim is what really bothers me.
More often than not, running injuries are slow onset. Before we actually get injured we feel something coming and at that point we can either deal with it properly or improperly. When we deal with it improperly, it leads to injury. No one forced anyone to wear VFFs. No one forced them to keep wearing VFF when the onset first took. We can blame the shoe all we want, but is that really what caused the injury? How is this anyone’s fault but the person who put on the shoes? Who continued to run through injury without trouble shooting why? How many people failed to transition properly? Did anyone actually do any reading or research (other than Born to Run)?
For me it’s a sad moment for our already over-litigious society. Soon shoe boxes will come with warning labels advising purchasers to only run under a doctors supervision. Or “Caution: shoe laces can become a choking hazard.”
And the real twist in all this BS? The excess funds that don’t get claimed and don’t end up lining the lawyers coffers go to the American Heart Association. An organization with a shoddy past that – depending on what diet science you follow – could be considered to be lying with their claims to a healthy heart.
As an addendum: “As is the case with many of these class-action lawsuits, a big chunk will go to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. They’re eligible to receive up to $937,500 in fees and reimbursement for up to $70,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.” Article here. That’s nearly 30% of the whole settlement.