A 21-year-old London intern who was found dead in a shower after working for 72 hours in a row died of an epileptic seizure, an inquest has found.
British coroner Mary Hassell said fatigue could have been a trigger in Moritz Erhardt’s death, which help touch off an international outcry about working conditions for interns.
"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," Hassell said Friday at the conclusion of an inquest into the death.
But she stopped short of directly attributing his death to the punishing working conditions.
Did not disclose epilepsy
"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,” she said.
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German-born Erhardt had not disclosed his epilepsy to his employer, but he was taking medication to control it.
Erhardt’s parents told the coroner that they were concerned at how little sleep their son got and had noticed numerous e-mails sent at 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.
“My wife noticed in his last week that he didn’t get enough sleep,” Hans-Georg Dieterle, his father, said. “We thought this might be a risk in terms of his epilepsy.”
Ambitious people 'want to over-perform'
Fellow Bank of America Merrill Lynch employees were also interviewed during the inquest.
Colleagues said Moritz had worked three days without sleep before being found dead in his apartment.
Bob Elfring, co-head of corporate and investment banking at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said there was no particular project to force him to work such punishing hours, but Erhardt was regarded as a promising potential employee.
"We are used to working with people who are ambitious and want to over-perform," he said.
The bank has since done an internal review of working conditions for its interns.
His death focused attention on working conditions for interns, not just in intensely competitive financial institutions, but also in companies in the U.S. and Canada.
Alberta intern dies
Less than a month after his death, a 22-year-old Alberta practicum student died after crashing his car while driving home after being made to work long hours.
The province promised a review of student practicum programs in post-secondary schools, after the death of Andy Ferguson, who was working toward a radio and broadcast diploma.
The number of internships offered has risen as youth face increased unemployment. Labour experts have called for stricter rules over what interns could be called to do and how long they should work.
In the U.S., several lawsuits were launched over unpaid internships and some companies, such as Conde Nast, ended their internship programs.