Study Finds Medical Error is the Most Common Cause of Birth Asphyxia


Birth asphyxia is a medical condition that occurs when a baby’s brain is deprived of oxygen long enough to cause injury, usually brain injury in the form of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). Asphyxia is one of the most common causes of birth injuries, which are injuries that occur during or near the time of delivery. Birth asphyxia and resultant HIE can cause a child to have hypoxic-ischemic brain damage, which can cause lifelong problems, such as seizures, cerebral palsy, developmental delays and intellectual disabilities.

Results of a 15-year Norwegian study indicate that human error is the most common cause of birth asphyxia (1). Inadequate fetal monitoring, lack of clinical skills, noncompliance with clinical guidelines, and failure to obtain senior medical assistance were the most common causes of medical error resulting in birth asphyxia.

birth injury lawyers & cerebral palsy attorneys

 In the study, researchers analyzed birth asphyxia claims from 1994 – 2008.  A total of 315 claims were made and 161 of those claimants were awarded compensation.

In Norway, birth asphyxia is the most commonly compensated birth injury negligence claim. According to the study (1):

  • 50% of birth asphyxia cases were associated with inadequate fetal monitoring
  • 14% of birth asphyxia cases were associated with lack of clinical knowledge
  • 11% of birth asphyxia cases were associated with non-compliance to clinical guidelines
  • 10% of birth asphyxia cases were associated with failure to ask for senior medical assistance
  • 4% of birth asphyxia cases were associated with errors in drug administration

The importance of proper fetal monitoring

When a mother is admitted to a labor and delivery unit, it is the standard of care to begin continuously monitoring the baby’s heart rate with a fetal heart monitor. The monitor shows the baby’s heart rate in response to contractions.  When a baby starts to become deprived of sufficient oxygen, it will be in distress and its heart tracings will be deemed non-reassuring. In most cases when this occurs, the baby should be delivered immediately to prevent brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation. A C-section delivery is the fastest and safest way to deliver a baby in distress. 

Failure to recognize non-reassuring tracings or failure to notify the physician about these tracings are common causes of a baby being left in oxygen-depriving conditions for too long include failure to recognize non-reassuring tracings or failure to notify the physician about these tracings. A breakdown in communication among the medical staff often results in the physician being notified of fetal distress too late. Sometimes, the hospital is short staffed and the physician is unable to perform a C-section in a timely manner. Other times, the physician and medical team simply fail to act with urgency when non-reassuring heart tracings are occurring. The team may spend too much time testing the mother and baby or trying to perform a vaginal birth when one is not forthcoming. Or, there may be nobody present that can adequately identify abnormal fetal heart tracings, which requires a lot of skill.

With proper fetal monitoring and the ability to perform a prompt C-section delivery, the baby can quickly be delivered as soon as distress occurs. The risk for permanent injuries caused by asphyxia can then decrease.

Birth Asphyxia Lawyers 

If your baby suffers from HIE, PVL, cerebral palsy, seizures, developmental delays or any other lifelong condition, contact the award winning birth injury lawyers at ABC Law Centers (Reiter & Walsh, P.C.). Our firm is unique in that we focus solely on birth injury law and have been practicing in this area for almost 3 decades.

ABC Law Centers is currently recognized as one of the best medical malpractice law firms in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, and the partners of the firm, Jesse Reiter and Rebecca Walsh, are recognized in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Lawyers. In fact, U.S. News and World Report has recognized Jesse in  “Best Lawyers in America” every year since 2008. The birth injury lawyers at ABC Law Centers have won numerous awards for their advocacy of children and are members of the Birth Trauma Litigation Group (BTLG) and the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ).

The birth injury lawyers at ABC Law Centers help children throughout the country obtain compensation for lifelong treatment, therapy and a secure future, and they give personal attention to each child and family they represent. Our nationally-recognized birth injury firm has numerous multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and no fees are ever paid to our firm unless we win your case. Email or call ABC Law Centers at 866-746-1520 for a free case evaluation.  Our firm’s award-winning birth injury lawyers are available 24 / 7 to speak with you.

Contact our birth injury attorneys and legal nurses in any of the following ways with any questions you may have. We do not charge any fees for our legal processes unless we win!

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  1. Wiley. (2013, November 18). Human error most common cause of birth asphyxia: Poor fetal monitoring in 50% of cases, Norwegian study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 29, 2020 from


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