The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear an appeal on Wednesday of a failed wrongful death lawsuit filed by the husband of a publicist for Hollywood stars after she died from a fall down a flight of stairs at an Oxford County guest house in 2012.

Lois Smith, whose clients included Marilyn Monroe, Martin Scorsese and Rosie O’Donnell, fell while staying at The Maine Farm House in Bryant Pond on Oct. 6, 2012, during a weekend visit before she and her husband, Eugene Smith, were to be honored by Hebron Academy for their support of the private school.

A lower court judge, Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills, rejected the claims by Smith’s husband in a ruling on Jan. 23 that the owner of The Maine Farm House, Timothy Salvesen, was responsible for her death through negligence by having an unsafe stairway.

Smith, who was 84 when she died, was unaware that the second-floor room she and her husband had selected at the guest house was actually a two-story suite with a stairwell in the bedroom leading to the first floor, court documents say. The Maine Farm House operates by providing guests with a pass code, allowing them to enter and select a room without a staff member being present.

Woken by his wife’s scream, Eugene Smith searched the bathroom and hall stairs before realizing there was an additional staircase in the bedroom. He found his wife at the bottom of the first flight of stairs, bleeding from her head, according to court records.

Lois Smith was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. She never recovered and died the next day of her injuries.

News of her death spread in national and international media outlets, including The New York Times, the BBC, Variety and People magazines.

Smith co-founded the entertainment agency Pickwick Public Relations in 1969. The firm merged in 1980 to become PMK, and now exists as PMK*BNC.

During her years as a New York City publicist, Lois Smith helped form the Hollywood careers of stars like Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, working with them both from early in their professional lives.

Smith retired in 2001 and went on to live on Plum Island in northeastern Massachusetts.

In the lawsuit, Eugene Smith, personally and as representative of his wife’s estate, argued that his wife’s fall was caused by the negligent design of the staircase. He hired an expert, who investigated and discovered that the stair had defects that included inconsistent height of its risers and improper railing height.

Both sides asked Mills to rule on the case without a trial, a process in civil cases called summary judgment. Mills ruled in favor of Salvesen, writing in her 10-page order that even if a jury could infer that Lois Smith fell while going down the stair there was no evidence about how she fell.

In the appeal, Eugene Smith’s attorney, Michelle Allott, argued that Mills erred in her ruling by excluding portions of Eugene Smith’s testimony and that of his expert, basing her ruling on the cause of the fall and by giving weight to arguments that Lois Smith’s diabetes-related illnesses could have caused her to fall.

“The Superior Court erred in granting summary judgment, where there was undisputed evidence of stair defects and negligence that more probably than not caused Lois Smith’s fatal fall,” Allott wrote in a brief submitted to the Supreme Judicial Court before Wednesday’s oral arguments.

Salvesen’s attorney, Elizabeth Germani, argued that the state’s high court should reject the appeal on grounds there isn’t enough evidence to rule out that Lois Smith lost her balance due to one of her many medical conditions or whether she fell “for any of the other countless reasons that people fall.”

“No one knows how she fell; no one knows from where she fell; and no one knows what caused Mrs. Smith to fall,” Germani wrote in her brief to the court.

The Supreme Judicial Court is not expected to rule immediately on the appeal and generally sets no timetable for when it will issue a ruling.


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