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Denise Henning

Alyson E. Raletz//April 25, 2010

Denise Henning

Alyson E. Raletz//April 25, 2010

When Denise Henning asked her 10-year-old son if he wanted to grow up to be a lawyer, she couldn’t help but smile at his response.

“Only girls can be lawyers,” Bryan answered.

Henning is one of the most successful female plaintiff attorneys in Missouri. She owns the Henning Law Firm, in Kansas City, specializing in personal injury, wrongful death and transportation-related injury cases.

Karen Elshout photo
Karen Elshout photo

“It’s a demanding lifestyle – trial work especially. On the plaintiff’s side, it’s definitely risky,” Henning says. It’s not unusual for her firm to shell out $100,000 in a semi-trailer case. And her reimbursement hinges on a successful outcome.

“I have a pretty high risk-tolerance level,” she says.

Henning has landed some of the state’s highest jury verdicts and settlements in recent years, including an $8 million verdict in 2005 against Green Valley Transportation. She convinced a jury that the California trucking company went against its own hiring requirements and allowed an inexperienced driver to operate one of its semi-trailers. The driver struck and killed a 23-year-old man driving a farm tractor in Jackson County.

Henning, a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law, spent her early career mainly defending corporations. Then she started her own firm specifically so she could represent families after catastrophic accidents. “They really are at a crisis situation in their lives,” she says.

Henning credits part of her success to her mentors, including Missouri Supreme Court Judge Patricia Breckenridge. Henning clerked for Breckenridge at the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District.

Now Henning has evolved into a mentor herself, Breckenridge says. The judge often calls on Henning to visit with young female law clerks looking to transition to private practice.

“What’s different about her is now she has a powerful personality. She knows she’s a force to be reckoned with,” Breckenridge says. “She has grown to her comfort level of being assertive.”

In 2007, Henning successfully negotiated a $6 million arbitration award in a highway defect case against the Missouri Department of Transportation. The case centered on the death of a doctor struck by a car after he stopped to help stranded motorists on a Warrensburg-area highway.

One of her more high-profile settlements also came that year when she represented the mother of a construction worker who died during an explosion at a pork-processing plant in St. Joseph. Henning garnered a $2.25 million settlement from Triumph Foods.

Henning says she could empathize more with her clients after encountering her own life crisis: She celebrated five years of beating breast cancer in December 2009.

“I have a greater understanding to see what it is like in the health care system, and that’s what my clients do every day,” she said. “When you have a serious illness, the hope is very encouraging. I hope I can give that hope to my clients.”

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