Fatigue ‘may have triggered intern’s fatal fit’

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A 21-year-old intern died of an epileptic fit that may have been triggered by fatigue after working “exceptional” hours at a top investment bank, an inquest has heard.

Moritz Erhardt was a week from completing a coveted placement at Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s London offices, and was due to be offered a job at the bank, when his body was found in the shower at his temporary accommodation in August.

An inquest at Poplar Coroner’s Court in east London yesterday heard that the German student was taking medication for epilepsy, but had not told anyone at the bank about his condition.

Mr Erhardt’s death sparked calls to overhaul the culture of punishingly long hours in the City of London after it emerged he had worked through the night several times in the days leading up to his death, and prompted Bank of America Merrill Lynch to launch a review.

Recording a verdict of natural causes, coroner Mary Hassell said Mr Erhardt died after an epileptic seizure, despite regularly taking medication, which may have been brought on by fatigue.

She told the court: “Unfortunately, although many, many people live with epilepsy and go on to live to old age, sometimes it still causes death very suddenly in this way and sometimes that happens even with a person as young and as fit as Moritz was.”

She went on: “One of the triggers for epilepsy is exhaustion and it may be that because Moritz had been working so hard his fatigue was a trigger for the seizure that killed him.

“But that’s only a possibility and I don’t want his family to go away with the thought that it was something that Moritz did that caused his death.

“He was a young man living life to the full and he was clearly enjoying his time in London and, whilst it’s possible that fatigue brought about the fatal seizure, it is also possible that it just happened. And it is something that does just happen.”

The inquest heard that Mr Erhardt had suffered from epilepsy since 2010.

He never complained about his working hours or feeling unwell, and even on the day before he was found dead, appeared to be fine, the court heard.

Juergen Schroeder, Mr Erhardt’s development officer at Merrill Lynch, described him as “very motivated, very confident”, but also “very humble, very down to earth”.

“Colleagues at the bank thought very highly of him and did enjoy working with him,” he said.

“Moritz was always full of energy, full of enthusiasm. He, I think, wanted to make the most out of his internship, he was very eager to learn,” Mr Schroeder said.

Describing him as “very proactive”, he said: “He would not just sit still and wait for the work to come to him. He would be going round various teams and introducing himself, especially at the beginning.”

He told the inquest it was difficult to know exactly what hours the student was working, and admitted that most interns worked long hours.

“I think interns in general do work long hours and sometimes past midnight,” he said.

“I would say it’s not only the case at Bank of America Merrill Lynch - it’s the case at most banks in London, it’s the case in Germany, it’s the case in, I think, most parts of the world as well.”

The court heard that, in a conversation the day before his death, Mr Schroeder had “hinted” to the intern that he would be offered a job at the bank.

On the day Mr Erhardt was found dead, Mr Schroeder said he received a call from human resources, asking where the student was.

He noticed he was not at his desk and his computer was off, then was told by another intern that they had been trying to get hold of Mr Erhardt, who had missed a lunchtime intern event.

Paramedics called to the flat checked Mr Erhardt’s vital signs and he was declared dead at 8.34pm on August 15.

In a statement, a Bank of America Merrill Lynch spokesman said: “As we have previously announced, a senior working group has been convened to review the work environment for our junior employees.

“It has been listening to employees at all levels and is focused upon ensuring that, where needed, we provide a greater level of supervision and support.

“Our ultimate goal is to create better working patterns and improved work/life balance for future interns, graduate recruits and our broader junior banker community.”