In patients with acute lung injury (ALI) and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a recent ARDS Network randomized controlled trial demonstrated that a low tidal volume (VT) mechanical ventilation strategy (6 ml/kg) reduced mortality by 22% compared with traditional mechanical ventilation (12 ml/kg). In this study, we examined the relative efficacy of low VT mechanical ventilation among 902 patients with different clinical risk factors for ALI/ARDS who participated in ARDS Network randomized controlled trials. The clinical risk factor for ALI/ARDS was associated with substantial variation in mortality. The risk of death (before discharge home with unassisted breathing) was highest in patients with sepsis (43%); intermediate in subjects with pneumonia (36%), aspiration (37%), and other risk factors (35%); and lowest in those with trauma (11%) (p < 0.0001). Despite these differences in mortality, there was no evidence that the efficacy of the low VT strategy varied by clinical risk factor (p = 0.76, for interaction between ventilator group and risk factor). There was also no evidence of differential efficacy of low VT ventilation in the other study outcomes: proportion of patients achieving unassisted breathing (p = 0.59), ventilator-free days (p = 0.58), or development of nonpulmonary organ failure (p = 0.44). Controlling for demographic and clinical covariates did not appreciably affect these results. After reclassifying the clinical risk factors as pulmonary versus nonpulmonary predisposing conditions and infection-related versus non-infection-related conditions, there was still no evidence that the efficacy of low VT ventilation differed among clinical risk factor subgroups. In conclusion, we found no evidence that the efficacy of the low VT ventilation strategy differed among clinical risk factor subgroups for ALI/ARDS.