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Vibram settles FiveFingers lawsuit: ‘Toe shoe’ owners eligible for refund

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If you’re among the more than 70,000 people who bought Vibram’s popular FiveFingers “toe shoes,” you could get some of your money back.

The company has agreed to pay $3.75 million to settle a group of lawsuits accusing Vibram of false advertising, specifically its claims that the shoes could strengthen foot muscles while reducing running injuries.
According to court documents, the company admits no wrongdoing but will pay up to $94 per pair purchased after March 21, 2009. Most payments, however, are estimated at $20 to $50 per pair.

Vibram has agreed to set up a website – www.fivefingerssettlement.com – which will provide details on how to file a claim. According to the settlement, proof of purchase will not be needed for fewer than two pairs of shoes.

Vibram did not respond to requests for comment.

Spurred by a groundswell in minimalist and barefoot running in recent years, FiveFingers grew particularly popular among those in the military after special-operations troops and CrossFitters became early adopters.

Proponents say the shoes help athletes run with a more natural stride, hitting the ground more toward the fore- and mid-sole of the foot, rather than the heel striking that predominated with the trend of more cushioned soles.

The science, however, has been mixed.

“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,” reads a May 9 statement by the American Podiatric Medical Association.

In a December 2013 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers concluded that minimalist shoes could actually increase the chance of injury among recreational runners.

Among 99 runners preparing for a 10K race over a 12-week period, those wearing FiveFingers and another minimalist brand experienced more injuries than those wearing more typical running shoes.

“Running in minimalist footwear appears to increase the likelihood of experiencing an injury, with (FiveFinger) designs specifically increasing pain at the shin and calf,” researchers concluded.

Despite all the controversy, 70 percent of those who’ve purchased FiveFingers will continue to wear them according to a recent DealNews poll of more than 1,000 Vibram owners.

Jon R. Anderson is a staff writer for OFFduty. Contact him at jona@militarytimes.com.

Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is a writer for OFFduty. Reach him at jona@militarytimes.com.