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February 2004 Vol. 19, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Rodale and Force Fins Agree to Disagree

from the February, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Bob Evans, founder of Santa Barbara-based Force Fins, sued Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine over what he felt was unfair treatment of his uniquely designed fins in the magazine's ScubaLab comparison tests.

Back in September 2000, Evans had accepted a Rodale challenge that offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove the magazine's scuba gear reviews were biased or contained "lies, misrepresentations, or other distortions." He fired off a five-page submission, but Rodale's denied his accusations and refused to pay.

So, three years later, Evans filed a civil suit charging the publication with defamation, trade libel, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, unfair business practices, and breach of contract. He sought compensatory damages of $4.8 million. Evans alleged that the magazine had been unable to produce any test data comparing his fins with those of his competitors. Rodale's attorneys countered that Evans had failed to produce any supporting evidence of bias or favoritism by the magazine.

Last October, the Santa Barbara U.S. District Court granted Rodale's motion for summary judgment and threw out the major claims, leaving a minor breach of contract claim. Rodale's agreed to a $9,000 settlement "to bring final closure to the action far more favorable than continued litigation," in the words of a corporate press release.

Dane Farnum, publisher of Scuba Diving, commented: "While we hated to settle any part of this suit, the fact is that it would have cost us much more to defend this final issue which represented less than a quarter of one percent of the total damages being sought by Evans. After spending over $150,000 to defend Rodale's Scuba Diving on the primary counts, we were ready to move on. More importantly, Evans failed to prove any bias or wrong-doing and Rodale's Scuba Diving will continue to publish the only comparative scuba equipment evaluations available in the United States."

Evans told Undercurrent his suit was dismissed on a technicality having to do with the California statute of limitations, so the merits of his case were never heard. Farnum disagrees. He says that the discovery process in the case never got far enough along to require Rodale's to turn over its test documentation, adding, "I will stand by our original position that our reviews are objective and unbiased by advertising dollars." In fact, Farnum said, "Force Fin was one of only a small handful of companies that supported us with advertising dollars in our launch year ('92). That ended after our first fin review in which they got far from stellar marks."

Evans believes he still has grounds for going forward in court but says the attorney's fees would be prohibitive ... as would the Constitution, which supports freedom of the press.

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