A lawsuit filed on behalf of a woman left with permanent brain damage after she tried to hang herself in the Monroe County Jail in 2002 has been settled for $13.1 million, her attorney said Wednesday.

Attorney Michael Devanie of La Crosse said he believes it might be the largest lawsuit settlement for a jail suicide attempt in the country.

Devanie said the settlement will do little to heal Brenda Mombourquette, now 46, but he hopes it will improve the way mentally ill inmates are treated.

"No amount of money could ever fix her. But maybe it can stop it for other people," Devanie said. "It doesn't take a lot to prevent a suicide. Over and over and over, you see it where the proper steps are taken (to prevent a suicide) - people walk out of the jail and pass that bump in their life to correct their circumstances. This did not have to happen."

The settlement was reached just before the trial was to start in U.S. District Court in Madison, Devanie said.

Terms call for Monroe County's insurance carrier, Wisconsin Counties Mutual Insurance Corporation, to pay Mombourquette's estate $6.1 million if she dies within 13 years, and no more than $13.1 million over her lifetime, according to the settlement.

The insurance company will pay an initial $500,000 to Mombourquette's sister, Tammy Mombourquette, and make monthly payments after that.

Tammy Mombourquette said she will use the money to place her sister in a housing environment that can accommodate her needs.

The settlement also includes money for Mombourquette's daughters to attend college, Devanie said.

Under the agreement, Monroe County refuses to accept responsibility for the incident, Devanie said.

Milwaukee attorney Charles Bohl, who represented the county in the matter, was out of the office and unavailable to comment Wednesday.

Mombourquette tried to hang herself in a Monroe County jail cell Nov. 21, 2002, her third suicide attempt in a few months' time. She now requires full-time care at a facility in Trempealeau County but will be moved to Canada so she can be closer to her family, Tammy Mombourquette said.

Devanie claimed in the suit that officials were deliberately indifferent to protecting Brenda Mombourquette's health and safety while in custody, especially given her past suicide attempts, and because she earlier had reported a jailer was having sex with female inmates.

Based on evidence in the civil case, Devanie has filed a petition with the governor's office asking that the Department of Justice investigate allegations of misconduct by the sheriff's department.

"I hope there's an investigation into the circumstances that could lead a jail to be this dysfunctional," Devanie said. "I hope there's some introspection there and changes made, because they need them desperately."

Dan Springer can be reached at dspringer@lacrossetribune.com or (608) 791-8269.

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