Vibram Class Action Suit – A Moral & Financial Dilemma

20140529-185552.jpgUnless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month, you’ve likely heard of the settlement of the class action law suit that was filed against Vibram, maker of the oh-so-classy-looking FiveFingers shoes.

I wear these shoes. I have for about 5 years, and the last couple of years I’ve been running about 2,000 miles per year in them. Needless to say, I like them. So when I saw the headlines about the class action lawsuit and settlement, I knew I needed to read more.

The Gist

At the heart of the lawsuit is the claim that Vibram made “false health claims”, inducing customers to buy FiveFngers shoes and pay more for them than they would have otherwise.

My Take On The Lawsuit

Okay, the obvious first. What product these days doesn’t make health claims to induce customers to buy more and pay a higher price? Just look around your neighborhood supermarket for a bunch of unsubstantiated health claims plastered on any number of items! “Superfood”? Really?

That said, in the 5 years that I’ve been wearing and continuing to buy FiveFinger shoes, I don’t ever recall reading any Vibram marketing professing outsized health claims.  Actually, I’ve rarely seen an ad for Vibram shoes, period. Additionally, there are warnings and directions on their website to be careful when transitioning to the footwear for exercise and to proceed slowly. (I’ve never seen those kind of warnings on a pair of high heels…) So it’s safe to say that I think this was a pretty frivolous lawsuit.

Are Vibrams for everyone? Probably not. I switched to them as a last resort when Nike shoes and the prescription orthotics I paid hundreds of dollars for were giving me shin splints. (But you don’t see me suing Nike or my ex-podiatrist.) After taking the switch to Vibrams gradually as suggested- my first jog was 1 block long – I became a convert and have been largely injury free ever since.

So when people ask me about the shoes, that’s what I tell them. They worked for me, but I had problems in “regular” running shoes. But for those without problems in their current footwear, I turn to the adage, “It it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

But There’s Still A Moral/Financial Dilemma

Despite the fact that I think the lawsuit was mostly just a way to line the lawyers’ pockets to the tune of ~$1mm, the fact of the matter is that the class action suit happened and as an unnamed member of the “injured” class, I need to deal with it.

I can:

  • Do nothing. We get no compensation and give up rights to later sue Vibram. We have no desire to sue, but why am I giving up rights with no return?
  • Exclude myself from the settlement. This grants me no monetary award and maintains my right to later sue Vibram on my own. But really, I don’t want to sue them…
  • Object to the settlement. I do object, verbally… but I don’t think submitting a formal objection would actually do anything to change the settlement since it’s a done deal.
  • Submit a claim. Here we’d get $20-$50 per pair of shoes that we can substantiate the purchase of (though you are allowed 2 without needing proof of purchase), and we forfeit the right to sue Vibram in the future.

So far, the best decision we’ve come up with is to submit a claim and use that money to buy more Vibrams (even though I have no idea when the payment will come through).

How Much Money Are We Talking?

In the PoP family, we’ve purchased quite a few of these shoes over the past 5 years, though admittedly they’ve mostly been for me. And one of the benefits of tracking your finances the way we do is that it was insanely easy for me to determine that up until the announcement of the settlement, we had purchased 15 pair since 2009, 13 of which were for me, and 2 of which were for Mr PoP.

Then, since it was time for me to stock up on shoes again, and since Mr PoP and I talked out our game plan on the settlement, I went ahead and bought 3 more pair during a recent Memorial Day sale (an extra 30% off the shoes I wanted on clearance!). That turned out to be a good decision because when the settlement site officially went live this week, any purchases made prior to 5/27/2014 are eligible for refunds. So my Memorial Day purchase slipped in right under the wire.

But, we don’t have receipts for all the ones we bought locally years ago, and although Mint tells me the date and store where the purchases took place, I’m not going to bother those stores to track down 5-year-old hand-written receipts. There are better uses of my time and the time of those store clerks.

Nonetheless, here’s what we’ll be able to claim and what it might be worth.

  • Me: 12 pair * $20-$50 = $240-$600
  • Mr: 2 pair * $20-$50 = $40-$100
  • PoP Total: 14 pair = $280 – $700

Considering I spent $150 on the 3 pair I picked up on sale this weekend, when (if?) the settlements ever come in, there should still be plenty in there for some more shoe purchases. And heck, I might just have to get those directly from the Vibram website and give as much of the settlement money back to the company as possible.

I don’t like frivolous lawsuits. I really don’t. And this one felt ridiculously frivolous. But what’s done is done, and I can only hope that we navigated a balance between standing by a product that has been great for us and giving up “free” money.

 

What do you generally do when you’re included as a member in a class action lawsuit?  What would you have done if you were in our (funny looking) shoes?

20 comments to Vibram Class Action Suit – A Moral & Financial Dilemma

  • Let’s see, in your situation I would do one of the three things:
    1. Nothing because I’m lazy (this would depend on whether or not proof of purchase was easy to find and how much I’d be able to get total)
    2. Lodge a written objection, if I cared enough, because sometimes I do things like that if I’m morally annoyed (see: yelling at the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran church for making me sit through a church service -to see my preschooler perform- in which the minister spent some time praying against gay marriage, even though we’re not Lutheran and would certainly never be Missouri Synod.)
    3. Take the money and continue buying the shoes.

    Most likely I’d pick #3, but it would depend on laziness, how much DH was willing to look for receipts, and my moral feelings on the matter.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Ask the grumies: Tv for toddlersMy Profile

    • The receipts I had took about 1 minute to find thanks to gmail (and represented a decent chunk of our purchases, thought not all), and filing the claims was pretty easy.

      It definitely wouldn’t have felt worth it to try and track down receipts from the mom and pop shops that I bought the shoes at locally 4 or more years ago, though.

  • Frivolous lawsuits are a sign of our times sadly. I understand they aren’t such a problem in many foreign countries, because the losing party has to pay the court costs for the winner. Sometimes I’m amazed that companies continue to go through the trouble of selling new and innovative items.

    Anywho, I’ve been in your position several times in the past few years. Usually, involving some sort of investor lawsuit. In most of the cases I did not file a claim because they wanted a heap of personal information (birth certificate, SSN, etc) and my upside was less than $100. In one case it would have been like $10, because I only owned 100 shares. The two things that count are your risk/reward……and the value of your time. I’ll be curious how it turns out. I am also a minimalist runner, but never did get used to the “toes”.
    -Bryan
    Income Surfer recently posted..Making Money Investing in JunkMy Profile

    • Yikes, they wanted your SSN! I definitely would not have filed a claim if they had required that.

      The toe shoes aren’t for everyone – some people can’t get over the feeling of having fabric between their toes – but I love ’em!

  • I usually calculate if it’s worth digging up receipts and then dig them up if it is and otherwise, take what they’ll give me with just mailing the slip of paper back. I did that once I think last year and I should get $30 back from whatever it was? Still haven’t seen any money from it though.
    Leigh recently posted..Re-thinking the mortgage payoff planMy Profile

    • Yeah, I googled the Skechers shoe settlement since that was the nearest comparison I could remember and it looks like the payouts came about a year or so after the initial settlement announcement. So maybe you’ll get your $30 soon? =)

  • I have been included as a member of a class action lawsuit a couple times in the last few years. Sadly, I think I was fuzzy on the details of most of the lawsuits (I didn’t bother to educate myself like you did!) I accepted the checks anyway, even though I think the largest one was MAYBE $20. I like your plan to take the money and buy more shoes.
    Dee @ Color Me Frugal recently posted..Weekly Money Roundup #27My Profile

    • Like you, I don’t always take the time to look into them, but this is a product that I use EVERY SINGLE DAY, so felt like I should probably see what was going on.

  • Peter Bird

    You have totally misunderstood the class action. It was not about Vibram making false health claims. It was about Vibram claiming that had “ample evidence” too support the health claims they were making. There was no scientific evidence and there still isn’t. That claim mislead consumers into thinking that there was evidence.

    • Perhaps you would have preferred wording more like “unsupported health claims” rather than “false health claims”? It seems like an argument over semantics at that point, which might matter to lawyers, but not to most average consumers.

  • I’ve been involved in a couple lawsuits anything from Abercrombie and Fitch to Verizon Wireless and I usually just didn’t do anything and took a check. I think the only way that I would fight against a lawsuit if it was something that I cared more about it wasn’t a big corporation.
    Even Steven recently posted..Are Your Parents Rich-Small Town LifeMy Profile

  • Thank goodness I’m not the only one who thinks that lawsuit was BS! When you said you were considering taking the settlement, I was shocked, but now that I’ve read the whole post I really like the idea!
    Retired By 40! recently posted..How Can End of Life Care Affect Your Finances?My Profile

  • I would do what benefits you the most – take the money :) You didn’t raise the lawsuit, you just happen to be in the class. You can then do whatever you want with the money (like give it back to Vibram…). I’d put about as much effort into it as you have – if I had the receipts, I’d claim them, but not spend an inordinate amount of time looking for them. Enjoy the extra cash!
    Mom @ Three is Plenty recently posted..Accepted the OfferMy Profile

  • Here’s how you figure out what to do:

    Ask yourself the question: Was I injured by Vibram’s false marketing?

    If the answer is yes, collect your money or exclude yourself and sue independently.

    If the answer is no, then you should not collect any money. There is a difference between acting out of power and acting out of authority. Being a member of the injured class gives you the *power* to collect money, coupons, or whatever legally from Vibram, but unless you were actually injured, you don’t have the moral authority to do so.

    Your moral authority to collect would stem from being injured by their morally blameworthy acts. If they injured you while acting in a morally blameworthy fashion, then by all means, collect. But if Vibram did not act in a morally blameworthy way that injured you, then you forfeit the authority to collect because Vibram should not have a moral duty to compensate those to whom they did not injure through their own blameworthy acts.

    Very few people understand the difference between the power to do something and the authority to do something, but I like to keep it at the forefront of my mind.

    By the way, nice blog here.

    • I would agree with your analysis IF the amount of money extracted from Vibram would change based on whatever we claimed. According to the article below this is not the case-rather Vibram has deposited 3.75M that will be divided among the claimants-be it a hundred claimants, or a hundred thousand.

      You could make the argument that by staying a part of the class action we are taking some small bit of money from the other claimants (I’m not going to do the math, but I’m guessing its a few pennies?), but our claim doesn’t appear to impact Vibram in the least-other than using the money we get to buy more of their shoes!

      http://www.runnersworld.com/general-interest/vibram-agrees-to-settle-class-action-lawsuit

      I suppose what we are doing here is taking a few pennies a piece from other claimants-who’s claims I seriously doubt-and giving it back to Vibram.
      Mr PoP recently posted..PoP Balance Sheet – May 2014My Profile

  • The question is Who do I get to sue for making me look at such hideous shoes? :) My girlfriend has similar shoes and I make fun of her all the time for it. But all kidding aside, I think you should just do #3.

    I received a check for some Bank of America lawsuit and had no idea what it was from. I just cashed the check and kept on with my life… maybe I should’ve looked into it more, but oh well.
    Aldo @ MDN recently posted..The Friday FiveMy Profile

  • I probably wouldn’t get involved, simply for conscience issues as it seems definitely like a frivolous lawsuit and you haven’t personally had any issues with the shoes, but if you can’t turn down the cash, I like the idea of using the money to buy more shoes. Kind of a “stick it to the lawyers” approach. :-)
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..20 Random Things About MeMy Profile

  • Shame on you

    Purely out of principle, you should take the time and OBJECT. You love the product (as do I) and yet you want to be listed one of the injured? That’s hypocrisy and kind of makes you look sleazy. Don’t be a scumbag and take money that originates from amorality.

    You said: “I do object, verbally… but I don’t think submitting a formal objection would actually do anything to change the settlement since it’s a done deal.”

    Maybe you should stop voting too then… Or perhaps it’s okay then to take ill gotten spoils of someone who has be robbed and murdered, as long as it wasn’t you who did the robbing and murdering. After all it is “a done deal.”

    Hyperbole I know, but the point is true. Don’t be seduced by greed do the right thing.

    • Again, objecting, becoming a part of the lawsuit, or not becoming a part of the lawsuit will not change the amount of money taken from Vibram. If my understanding is correct we are decreasing by a very slight amount of money the other claimants will receive and handing it back to Vibram in exchange for more of their product.
      Mr PoP recently posted..PoP Balance Sheet – May 2014My Profile

  • Iforonwy

    Being on this side of the pond I am not sure what these types of lawsuits are but here is my experience with an insurance company The company were about to be prosecuted for mis-selling and it all seemed to hinge on the fact that they had harrassed folk over the telephone. We had had the product concerned with this company for a number of years and we had had very good experiences with it. For example they provided a central telephone number for you to contact if you had an emergency – burst pipes etc. We had needed to use it and had had excellent work carried out.

    The company sent out claim forms asking customers to fill them out with a view to getting back compensation and premiums paid. You could ring a dedicated free phone number for assistance in competing the form. I telephoned and said I had heard about and seen all the bad press in the media and just wanted to say that we had nothing but praise for the company although yes it was a bit annoying when they would telephone asking did you need any more of their products. I was asked to write this on my form and was told that the phonecall had also been lodged. Well a few months later I received a letter telling me that as a gesture of good will as I had taken the time to telephone they were sending me a % of my premiums back.

    When it came to the annual renewal of the policy I was told – oh you are the lady who said all those nice things, we can renew your policy for 50% of what it would normally be and as you did not need to claim under another aspect of the original policy we are returning the premiums for that element. So don’t just do nothing if you genuinely are happy with a product tell the company about it. Make someone’s day!