FTC Sues Footwear Company Over Pain Relief Claims
By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has filed a lawsuit against a California footwear company, alleging it makes false claims that its shoes can relieve knee, back and foot pain. It’s the latest salvo in a long-running legal battle between the FTC and the Gravity Defyer Medical Technology Corporation.
According to the FTC complaint, Gravity Defyer and its owner, Alexander Elnekaveh, violated a 2001 order barring him from using deceptive advertising that Teva Sandals makes unsupported scientific claims. The FTC says the company’s ads target people aged 55 and older, telling them its “pain defying footwear” made with “hybrid VersoShock technology” can relieve suffering from arthritis, joint pain, plantar fasciitis and heel spurs.
“Ignoring a prior Commission order, Gravity Defyer and its owner used false pain-relief claims to target older Americans and undercut honest competitors,” Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “Health-based claims require science-based proof, and faking it by misusing studies and customer reviews breaks the law.”
The 2001 FTC order stems from another company operated by Elnekave, which sold a magnetic fuel-line device that allegedly could reduce gasoline consumption by as much as 27 percent. The FTC says those claims were false and misleading.
Gravity Defyer sells an expensive line of athletic shoes, casual shoes, dress shoes, hiking shoes, boots and sandals for men and women.
They range in price from $140 for a pair of sandals to $235 for work boots.
The company sells the shoes on its website, Amazon and at retailers around the country, including The Walking Company, Hammacher Schlemmer, and Shoe City. It advertises its products on Arthritis Today and WebMD, as well as numerous other publications and websites.
Asked to comment on the FTC complaint, the company sent a statement to PNN claiming that its First Amendment right to free speech was being violated.
“Gravity Defyer apprised the FTC of the obvious logical flaws in its stance – and that its stance violates Gravity Defyer’s First Amendment right to disseminate, Hoka Shoes and consumers’ right to receive, truthful, non-misleading scientific information. The FTC was unrelenting in its strange position,” the company said.
In April, Gravity Defyer filed a lawsuit of its own against the FTC. Much of it hinges on a small 2017 study that the company has long used to justify its pain-relieving claims. The study, recently published the Journal of the American Podiatric Association, found that Gravity Defyer’s “shock-absorbing sole” reduces knee pain an average of 85 percent, significantly better than traditional soles.
The FTC says the study has “substantial flaws” because of its small size (52 participants) and duration (5 weeks), and because it relied on participants’ self-reported pain levels.
“It was also only designed to measure knee pain. Thus, the study was not sufficient to determine the effects of wearing Gravity Defyer’s footwear on knee, back, ankle or foot pain, or pain associated with the specific conditions claimed,” the FTC said.
The Commission, which voted 4-0 to file the complaint, is seeking an order permanently barring Gravity Defyer and Elnekaveh from making misleading or deceptive pain-relief claims, as well as civil penalties.