The Federal Trade Commission have announced in a press release that they are taking legal action again the footwear manufacture, Gravity Defyer.
The Gravity Defyer brand was launched in 2008 and their shoes feature a spring under the heel. At that time the Gravity Defyer shoes featured their sperm logo which certainly drew a lot of commentary. More recently they have been making health claims for their shoes that are not supported by the evidence.
These claims include:
“will relieve pain, including knee, back and foot pain;”
“will relieve pain in people suffering from multiple conditions such as plantar fasciitis, arthritis, joint pain, and heel spurs; and”
“is clinically proven to relieve pain, including 85 percent less knee pain, 91 percent less back pain, 92 percent less ankle pain, and 75 percent less foot pain.“
The FTC allege that there is a lack of evidence to support those claims and further allege that the company has failed to uphold previous agreements to not make unsubstantiated claims for their products.
Gravity Defyer have been reported as responding that the suit and its claims violates their First Amendment rights.
According to Big Class Action, Skechers have proposed to settle the class action for $40 million.
A $40 million settlement has been proposed in a consumer fraud class action lawsuit pending against toning shoe manufacturer Skechers U.S.A.
Entitled Grabowski v. Skechers U.S.A., Inc., No. 3:12-cv-00204 (W.D. Ky.), the lawsuit concerns claims that Skechers violated certain state laws and consumer protection statutes in connection with the marketing and sale of its toning shoes. Skechers denies those allegations.
A recent news report talks about litigation against Skechers from a male who claims that his Achilles tendon was ruptured from the use of their Shape Up toning shoes. The case has not been heard yet and there is no statement from Skechers.
Is the claim valid?
Toning shoes do alter the way you walk. They do alter the loads on different tissues, and yes they do make the calf muscles work harder, so they do place a greater load on the Achilles tendon. Much more is needed to rupture it though (more on Achilles ruptures), so to claim it is the cause is, in my opinion, a bit of a stretch. There must be a number of other risk factors present first and an Achilles tendon rupture is usually accompanied with simultaneous ankle dorsiflexion and knee extension. That will possibly be increased somewhat in toning shoes that have a rocker bottom. Generally a number of risk factors need to be in place for the rupture to happen, so the toning shoes can only be one of them.
As by way of analogy, there was the controversy when the Cox-2 inhibitor, Vioxx which was used as an anti-inflammatory agent was withdrawn from the market due to the increased risk for cardiovascular events. A number of people who had heart attacks or strokes while on this drug sued. Most of the cases failed, as they already had the risk factors for the heart attack or stroke (see this Wikipedia discussion) and Vioxx was not found to be the causative factor.
It will be interesting to see which way this Skechers case goes, or if it is just settled (which would be shame, as I would like to know which way the courts would rule!). Would they rule in favor of the litigant that the shoes caused the Achilles rupture or will they rule like in the Vioxx cases that other risk factors were already present?
Along with the settlements reached with Skechers and Reebok, Target have settled their suit involving their TrimStep range of toning shoes after failing to get a judge to throw out the case. According to Minneapolis/St. Business Journal, the terms of the settlement are confidential. Target have discontinued the shoe.
The Federal Trade Commission have announced that Skechers have agreed to pay $40 million to settle the charges it misled consumers with claims that its toning sneakers could do everything from help users lose weight to make their “bottom half their better half” without ever going to a gym. The settle will be used to provide refunds to the buyers of shape-ups. This follows the previous settlement with Reebok for $25 million
As part of the settlement, Skechers are barred from making unsubstantiated claims about the health and fitness benefits of Shape-ups and related footwear. The commission alleged Skechers also made deceptive claims about its Resistance Runner, Toners, and Tone-ups shoes.
They also claim a chiropractor named Steven Gautreau recommended the product based on a clinical study he claimed was “independent” and tested the shoes’ benefits compared to regular fitness shoes, the FTC said. The study did not produce the results claimed in the ad, the FTC said. Skechers also failed to disclose that Gautreau is married to a Skechers marketing executive and Skechers paid him to do the study, the FTC said.
In a statement Skecker’s stated:
“While we vigorously deny the allegations made in these legal proceedings and looked forward to vindicating these claims in court, Skechers could not ignore the exorbitant cost and endless distraction of several years spent defending multiple lawsuits in multiple courts across the country,”
Shoes that employ toning technology have been sold in the United States for more than 15 years and have been the subject of numerous research projects with at least 19 reports published in peer-reviewed clinical and sports medicine journals. Researchers from around the world have analyzed various models of toning shoes and found demonstrable fitness benefits from walking and standing in such shoes, as compared to flat-bottomed athletic footwear.
Link to the FTC press release.
Link to the Skechers Press Release
Not exactly a toning shoes issue, but Vibram Five Fingers have had a class action suit filed against them that has all the hallmarks of the Reebok settlement with the Federal Trade Commission and the class action cases filed against Skechers. Vibram Five Fingers are a minimalist running shoe offering no support or cushioning. They are very popular with the barefoot and minimalist runners. The suit alleges that the health gains promised by wearing the shoes did not eventuate. Vibram have issued a statement denying the claims and stating they will vigorously defend them
Link to the suit.
Runners World’s legal analysis of the suit.
There has been a lot of online discussion and debate about the merits of the case (eg see: Vibram Five Fingers facing class action over health claims).
There is a good analysis of the more recent unsuccessful attempt attempt by Vibram to get the case dismissed here.
Target are now the subject of a class action lawsuit following on from the recent Reebok settlement and the Skechers class action. The suit has been filed in the Minnesota state court. Like the previous suits this one also alleges that the customers who purchased the shoes failed to get the results that the advertising promised they would. Target began marketing their TrimStep line of footwear in 2009.
Link to court documents
Following on from the recent settlement between Reebok and the FTC over the claims for their toning shoes, a class action suit has been filed against Skechers by the product liability firm Estey Bomberger.
The product liability law firm of ESTEY BOMBERGER has filed a lawsuit against Skechers USA, Inc. on behalf of 37 plaintiffs across the country that suffered serious injuries as a result of wearing the Skechers Shape-ups and Tone-ups shoes. The lawsuit states that the toning shoes, most easily identified by their pronounced “rocker bottom” sole, have been on the market for several years, and advertised to provide countless health benefits including improved cardiac function and orthopedic benefits.
Link to press release
No response from Skechers Inc is available
Reebok were facing claims that they made false claims about their toning shoes helped to strengthen the leg and buttock muscles. In September 2011 they settles with the Federal Trade Commission (USA) for $25 million. The settlements covered advertising that started in 2009 for the EasyTone walking shoes and the RunTone running shoes. The claims made (“proven to tone buttocks 28% more than other sneakers”) were unsupported. According to the FTC there was no evidence to support this and other claims made by the company.
The director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, David Vladeck said at a press conference: “Consumers expected to get a workout, not worked over.” “The evidence was wholly insufficient to support the objective claims Reebok was making.”
The settlement requires Reebok to deposit $25 million into an escrow account within 15 days. Refunds can then be applied for by consumers. Any money that remains will pass to the U.S. Treasury as disgorgement. Reebok will also be required cease making claims about the health benefits of its shoes unless they’re supported up by at least one well-controlled human clinical study.
Reebok issued a statement said that it had settled “in order to avoid a protracted legal battle”. “Settling does not mean we agreed with the FTC’s allegations; we do not. We fully stand behind our EasyTone technology.”
FTC statement on settlement
Reebok statement on settlement