Unless 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.
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.
- 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?