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Bank of America intern died of natural causes: inquest

By Clare Hutchison

LONDON (Reuters) - A 21-year-old Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern whose death prompted the bank to review working conditions for junior employees died of natural causes, an inquest found on Friday.

Moritz Erhardt, from Staufen, southwest Germany, was in the last few days of a seven-week internship at the U.S. bank's investment banking division in London when he was found dead at his lodgings on August 15.

His death highlighted concerns about interns working excessive hours and even through the night after newspaper reports suggested that Erhardt had worked for 72 hours without sleep before he died.

The inquest, a legal inquiry into the circumstances of a death when the cause is still uncertain after a post-mortem, was ordered in October after a post-mortem concluded that Erhardt died of epilepsy.

Juergen Schroeder, Erhardt's Development Officer at the bank, told the inquest that no one at the bank had been aware of the intern's epilepsy.

Schroeder said Erhardt had was highly rated, well liked and was going to be offered a job, adding that he had hinted as much to Erhardt the day before his died.

Asked if it was normal for interns to work long hours he replied: "In general yes. It's not only at Bank of America, it's the case at most banks in London. It's the case in Germany and other parts of the world."

COMPETITIVE INTERNS

Schroeder said there was often a competitive pride among interns in working long hours but that it was not really necessary. "The way the bank assesses candidates is not by hours but by the qualities and skills they bring to the bank," he added.

After the inquest a Bank of America Merrill Lynch spokesman said that a senior working group had been listening to employees at all levels and was focused on creating better working patterns and improved work-life balance for future interns and junior bankers.

Erhardt's father Hans-Georg Dieterle told the hearing his son had epilepsy diagnosed in 2010 and had one or two seizures a year, though he had not complained about working long hours at the bank.

The pathologist Pete Vanezis said the position in which Erhardt's body was found suggested that he had been unable to breathe after a seizure.

Vanezis said that common triggers for seizures include exposure to flashing lights, stress, drugs, alcohol and exhaustion, but that a fit could also be brought on without any of those factors present.

Coroner Mary Hassell said that exhaustion was the most likely of those triggers to have affected Erhardt, but it was impossible to say whether that was behind the seizure.

"It's possible that fatigue brought about his fatal seizure. It's also possible that it just happened," she said.

(Writing by Stephen Addison; Editing by Erica Billingham and David Goodman)

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