Background Health-related quality of life (HRQoL) and return to work are important outcomes in critical care medicine, reaching beyond mortality. Little is known on factors predictive of HRQoL and return to work in critical illness, including the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and no evidence exists on the role of quality of care (QoC) for outcomes in survivors of ARDS. It is the aim of the DACAPO study (“Surviving ARDS: the influence of QoC and individual patient characteristics on quality of life”) to investigate the role of QoC and individual patient characteristics on quality of life and return to work. Methods/Design A prospective, observational, multi-centre patient cohort study will be performed in Germany, using hospitals from the “ARDS Network Germany” as the main recruiting centres. It is envisaged to recruit 2400 patients into the DACAPO study and to analyse a study population of 1500 survivors. They will be followed up until 12 months after discharge from hospital. QoC will be assessed as process quality, structural quality and volume at the institutional level. The main outcomes (HRQoL and return to work) will be assessed by self-report questionnaires. Further data collection includes general medical and ARDS-related characteristics of patients as well as sociodemographic and psycho-social parameters. Multilevel hierarchical modelling will be performed to analyse the effects of QoC and individual patient characteristics on outcomes, taking the cluster structure of the data into account. Discussion By obtaining comprehensive data at patient and hospital level using a prospective multi-centre design, the DACAPO-study is the first study investigating the influence of QoC on individual outcomes of ARDS survivors.