Vibram says it will 'fully defend' lawsuit against the company

Vibram said today it intends to 'fully defend' itself against a class action lawsuit filed by a Florida woman, who argues the high-end minimalist FiveFingers shoes she purchased a year ago failed to deliver on the benefits the company advertises.

Vibram FiveFingers, LLC, released a statement today in response to a class action lawsuit recently filed against the company by a Florida woman.

The statement said the company is surprised by the action and intends to “fully defend the lawsuit.” Officials could not comment on the specifics of the case.

“As of right now our attorneys don’t want us to comment any further than our statement,” said P.J. Antonik, media relations and communications associate for Vibram.

Florida resident Valerie Benzak filed suit against Vibram FiveFingers on March 21. Read a copy of the lawsuit here.

Benzak bought her Vibram Bikilas on April 13, 2011 for $104.90. 

Numerous articles on barefoot running state that it’s intended to encourage a runner’s natural forefoot and midsole strike, rather than the heel strikes many traditional running shoes support. Much of the literature SNEWS has read has said that continuing to heel strike while in barefoot shoes could lead to injuries.

Vibram’s website encourages consumers to consult a doctor to see if the activity is right for them. Plus, a company representative sent SNEWS this link to educational resources for its products.

Among other things, the lawsuit claims that Vibram misleadingly markets the shoes as offering significant benefits traditional running shoes lack, and that no such scientific evidence to prove this is so. Plus, the company charges premium prices for their products.

“As a result of Defendants' deceptive claims, consumers — including Plaintiff and the other members of the proposed Class — have purchased a product that has not been proven to perform as advertised,” the class action lawsuit reads. “Moreover, Defendants have been able to charge a significant price premium for FiveFingers over other conventional running shoes.”

The lawsuit brings in information from the American Podiatric Medical Association, which states that though anecdotes on the health benefits of barefoot running are common, research hasn’t documented the long-term effects of the activity. The association stated that barefoot running bears several associated risks, including “a lack of protection — which may lead to injuries such as puncture wounds — and increased stress on the lower extremities.”

Minimalist shoes, including Vibram FiveFingers, continue to be a hot commodity in specialty run and outdoor stores across the country, according to data from Leisure Trends. According to the company’s Topline RetailTRAK data, minimalist trail running shoes saw a 1062% growth in dollars sold from 2010 to 2011, and multisport shoes saw a 70 percent increase in dollars sold in the same period.

In its statement, Vibram explains the reasons for the growth in popularity of its products.

“For years now, consumers, amateur athletes and even professional athletes using FiveFingers have chosen to share their success stories with the broader community,” Vibram’s statement said. “As a result, Vibram has seen an enthusiastic and health-conscious fan base grow and flourish.”

--Ana Trujillo