Merrill Lynch intern died from epilepsy, inquest hears

Merrill Lynch
Image caption At the time of Moritz Erhardt's death, Merrill Lynch said it was "deeply shocked and saddened"

An intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in the UK died of epilepsy, which could have been triggered by "working so hard", an inquest has heard.

German-born Moritz Erhardt, 21, was found dead at his student residence in London in August, a week before completing his internship.

He had reportedly worked all night several times in the period before his death, which sparked a debate about student working conditions.

He was taking medication for epilepsy.

But he had not told anyone at the bank about his condition, an inquest at Poplar Coroner's Court in east London heard.

Coroner Mary Hassell said: "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."

She said it was "only a possibility" and she did not want his family to "go away with the thought that it was something that Moritz did" that caused his death.

Ms Hassell added: "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."

'Unpredictable' condition

Pathologist Professor Pete Vanezis said the intern had a history of epilepsy and was always at risk, even when taking medication.

When asked how he could have had a fit, despite taking his medication, Prof Vanezis said: "I am afraid it does happen. Epilepsy is a very unpredictable condition.

"Unfortunately, in many cases, we don't even know why people have seizures."

Prof Vanezis said the seizure could have been due to tiredness, but added: "It's unpredictable, there might be a trigger, there might not be."

The intern's father, Dr Hans-Georg Dieterle, said: "He was enthusiastic, he really enjoyed it [the internship]. He never complained, but especially my wife noticed in the last week that he just didn't get enough sleep."

Dr Dieterle told the court he and the young man's mother noticed from the time his emails were sent, sometimes at 05:00 or 06:00, that he had worked through the night.

He said: "It's just from the times his emails were sent my wife noticed that he couldn't have enough sleep and this might be a risk in terms of his epilepsy."

His death prompted Bank of America Merrill Lynch to launch a review.

His development officer at Merrill Lynch, Juergen Schroeder, described him as "very motivated, very confident", but also "very humble, very down-to-earth".

Culture change

At the time, Merrill Lynch said it was "deeply shocked and saddened".

"Our thoughts are with his family," a spokesperson for the bank said.

A spokesperson for Finance Interns, which provides support for young people entering the world of finance, said: "Following the verdict at today's inquest into Mr Erhardt's death, the spotlight is firmly on the pressures, whether self-imposed or from employers, faced by young people in today's unprecedentedly challenging employment landscape."

The organisation called for an independent body to represent the interests of interns and other young people working in the finance sector.

Workers and interns in the banking sector tend to opt out of the European Working Time Directive, which limits employees to a maximum 48-hour week.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which produces guidelines for HR professionals, said there was urgent need for a change of culture in the financial services industry regarding working hours and conditions.

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